The Pro Bono Clinic: Nuts and Bolts

Author: on 07/28/2015


DSC_0294You may know that there’s a lot that goes into a pro bono clinic. But planning the AILA Annual Conference Pro Bono Clinic takes it to another level. Here are some insights on the planning and logistics of this year’s event, sharing what we learned at the AC for anyone looking to run a pro bono clinic in the future – maybe even for Citizenship Day this September!

Planning began in earnest shortly after President Obama’s announcement regarding Executive Action. The number of clients potentially eligible for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area far exceeded the resources of area nonprofits, so AILA’s DC Chapter decided to use it as a way to give back and support the nonprofits. Originally the plan was to work with Ayuda, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, and CARECEN to assist their overflow clients who were ready to apply for DAPA since the timing would be perfect.  The clinic would take place several weeks after applications would start being accepted.  What’s that they say about best laid plans? The next thing we knew, the Texas lawsuit injunction happened and DAPA was officially in limbo.

The Hosting Committee discussed options over several conference calls and ultimately decided that regardless of the injunction, there could still be a lot of benefits to a DAPA-focused clinic.  Our mission was to (1) inform the community about the status of DAPA; (2) warn the community of the dangers of notario fraud; (3) ensure that community members were gathering documentation that will be necessary for any program—legislative or administrative; and (4) most importantly, identify whether a client might be eligible for another form of immigration relief and make the appropriate referrals.DSC_0309

First, the Committee worked with area nonprofits to identify the prospective clients they were unable to see.  The Hosting Committee with the help of our community partners then reached out in advance to potential clients to bring the event to their attention and try to pre-register as many attendees as possible. Next, the Committee worked with local minority media outlets, and finally, outreach was done in the community through schools, such as Carlos Rosario, and community centers.  The Pro Bono Clinic reached a total of more than 80 clients; each received a screening for DAPA, DACA and other common forms of relief.  Clients with potential relief were referred to experts who provided a more thorough evaluation of their case and referrals were made to our partner nonprofits— Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, CARECEN, and Ayuda.  The partnerships with the local nonprofits were critical to the success of the event for not only outreach, but also technical expertise.

The event was held at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, a location often used during AILA DC’s Citizenship Day, and the school has a strong relationship with both AILA DC and the community. Overall, Approximately 50 AILA members volunteered to provide screenings and expert advice, and we had 26 general volunteers, who served as runners, photocopiers and interpreters. AILA attorneys from all over the country participated, representing 15 chapters.  It’s difficult to quantify the value of the services provided by the volunteers, because it is more than just a dollar amount, it is a wDSC_0328ay to provide much needed support to area nonprofits inundated with clients.

The Pro Bono Clinic, Citizenship Day, and other volunteer efforts are ways that our members walk the talk, and show their values, by helping those in need in the community. Without the help of AILA volunteers, many clients would not be able to navigate the complicated immigration system with any certainty.

The event was a success and we received great feedback from volunteers and clients alike.  As with any large-scale event, the key to success is prior planning and leveraging of community partners and nonprofits.  Even though Committee Members were not centrally located, they were able to effectively use technology to organize and implement the clinic.  In my opinion, the event was true to its original mission, but the Committee was able to be flexible and responsive as unanticipated issues arose.  A big thank you, not only to AILA and the volunteer attorneys, but our partner nonprofits who worked with us to ensure this event was a success!

Written by Adonia Simpson, Member of the AC Pro Bono Clinic Planning Committee


Acting in Haste

Author: on 07/27/2015


shutterstock_91837658National tragedies have long propelled political change. Often a terrible event will ignite a fervent desire in political leaders to take action on an issue that has been neglected or overlooked. However, it is in these times of passion and emotion that some of the worst mistakes are made.

Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, our nation felt justified in stripping thousands of Japanese-Americans of their land and forcing them into internment camps. After the horrible terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, our government implemented laws such as the Patriot Act that infringed on Americans’ constitutional rights.

On July 1, 2015, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed on Pier 14 in San Francisco, while walking arm-in-arm with her father. The man who reportedly shot her, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times and been convicted of several drug-related offenses in the past. This random and senseless act is fueling the urge on the part of Congress to do something.

On July 23, 2015, the House passed H.R. 3009 to punish local jurisdictions – known as “sanctuary cities” that don’t comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) indefinite detainer requests for non-violent criminals.  If enacted these provisions will have devastating fiscal and humanitarian consequences for these municipalities.  In addition to other penalties, non-compliant cities would be ineligible to get reimbursed for the cost of detaining immigrants accused of or convicted of crimes.  In California, where we are just emerging from a severe recession and still have unemployment levels above the national average, such a federal mandate would prove devastating to our recovering economy.

A second bill, H.R. 3011, currently being considered in the House and expected to pass at this writing, will unilaterally sentence any undocumented immigrants to five years in prison for unlawfully re-entering the United States.   Congress is considering this bill despite the fact that the U.S. is already a world leader in the number of people it incarcerates, with states like California having to release inmates due to overpopulation within its prisons.

According to a study of 40 state’s prison systems by the Vera Institute of Justice, the average costs for a single inmate is $31,286 per year, with this fluctuating by jurisdiction, hitting a high of $167,731 per inmate in places like New York City. Multiply this cost by the tens of thousands of people that may be subject to five-year prison sentences throughout the country and it’s clear how immense the financial burden would be on federal, state and local budgets.

These costs do not factor in the economic impact imprisoning these individuals would have on the businesses and communities that rely on their labor.  According to the United States Department of Labor over half of the country’s farm workers are undocumented immigrants.  This bill directly threatens California’s $21 billion agricultural industry, which is already under tremendous stress due to an unprecedented drought.

Astonishingly, neither of these bills, even if enacted into law, would deter any criminal from engaging in a violent crime.  Instead they would deter the hard-working and benign immigrants that our country heavily relies on.  At a minimum, such ill-conceived demagoguery by Congress is divisive and counterproductive.

Congress instead should direct its energy and focus on a real solution through a thorough and comprehensive reform of our immigration laws so that criminals like Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez don’t have the ability to roam around our communities with impunity.  States do not need additional unfunded mandates from the federal government when it’s Congress who has failed to act as it should and give our country an immigration system that fits this century and the nation’s needs.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee


From Systems to Substance, Digital Innovation is Welcome News for Immigration

Author: on 07/21/2015


shutterstock_276868460Last week, the Office of Management and Budget released a plan for modernizing and streamlining the legal immigration system.   Much of the focus was on the potential positive impact of digital innovation.  Recommendations included the creation of a cross-agency digital services team to support the implementation of the modernized immigrant visa project.  This team would be charged with improving the visa applicant experience and increasing efficiencies in the adjudication process through digitization.  The plan rightly points out that “currently, the immigration application and adjudication process is mostly paper-based, requiring documents to change hands and locations among various federal actors at least six times for some petitions.”  Or in many cases, the same information must be sent separately, and in different formats, to several agencies, several times.  Take for example the H-1B nonimmigrant visa category for specialty occupations.  This category alone requires coordination between the Department of Labor (DOL), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of State (DOS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The DOL piece of the puzzle, the Labor Condition Application (LCA), has had an electronic option since 2002 and is today entirely online.  An employer may submit an LCA, post notice of filing and receive approval of certification from DOL without a single piece of paper.  However, the five-page LCA, once certified, must be printed out, signed and sent to one of USCIS’s Service Centers in Vermont or California as part of the H-1B petition.  And the LCA is not alone; USCIS’s forms must also be printed out and included with paper checks for filing fees which can exceed $3,500 and supporting documents which in total will easily exceed twenty pages.  To add to the paper submission, an entire copy of all documents submitted to USCIS must also be included so USCIS may physically send them to the DOS’s Kentucky Consular Center to be scanned and uploaded to the Petition Information Management Service.   And for H-1B cap cases, submitting the case to USCIS only means that a USCIS officer will collect the petitioner and beneficiary data and enter the case in a lottery.  The majority of cases which are not selected are put back in envelopes and returned to petitioners by mail.

Those H-1B petitions that are selected, or that are cap-exempt, will be reviewed.  If USCIS is not satisfied with the documents initially submitted, it will issue a Request for Evidence by mail.  The petitioner’s response must be submitted in duplicate by mail, or for those still fond of the 1990s, by fax.  Once approved, USCIS will send a two-page approval notice to the petitioner.  Should the beneficiary require a visa, the case will then move to the DOS phase.  DOS for its part has required online electronic applications of all nonimmigrant visa applicants worldwide since 2010.  However, many consular posts still recommend that visa applicants have a full hardcopy of the petition submitted to USCIS with them for their visa application interview.  In many cases, an H-1B visa will not be issued on the first submission.  Additional paper documentation may need to be couriered to a consular post before the application is approved.  Finally, with a visa endorsement in a passport, a beneficiary is still well advised, and in some cases required, to have an original USCIS approval notice to present to CBP on entry to the U.S.

With 318,824 H-1B petitions submitted to USCIS in 2014,  233,000 H-1B petitions submitted in the first week of April 2015 alone, and 179,408 H-1B visa applications submitted to consular posts worldwide in 2014, the cost of this inefficient and redundant  process to U.S. employers and the U.S. government, not to mention the environment, is significant.

While the H-1B is the most common nonimmigrant work visa, it is only a small piece of the entire immigration system which includes nonimmigrant visa categories from A to U, family and employment based immigrant visa categories, immigrant investors, the diversity lottery and others.  According to DOS statistics, nearly 10 million nonimmigrant and immigrant visas were issued worldwide in 2014.

A digital, paperless system is not a panacea, especially if the system is not robust, nimble or thoroughly tested prior to its launch.  We have seen for two consecutive years the DOS Consular Consolidated Database crash in the height of the summer visa rush.  Applicants around the world were effectively stuck in visa limbo for more than two weeks before the system was repaired and brought back on line.  The DOS’s National Visa Center (NVC) in New Hampshire, too, suffers from online payment issues which delay the processing of immigrant visa applicants’ cases, many of whom are separated from their U.S. citizen spouses while they wait.  The DOL iCert system has its own issues, including technical denials and technology that struggles to cope in the run up to H-1B cap season.  Modernizing our immigration system to a coordinated digital process will take a significant investment of time and resources.  But with a wealth of expertise in the stakeholder pool, the input, knowledge and best practices required are available.

The Office of Management and Budget plan also included a recommendation to redesign systems with an eye towards a human perspective and accessibility for users.  Ironically, a more digital system will result in a more human perspective than the current process.  Instead of mailing a bundle of papers to a vast, remote service center, applicants will have an online connection and will be able to communicate in real time through webchats, email and text.  Instead of petitions being physically sent from a client’s office to an attorney’s office, to a USCIS service center, to a DOS center in Kentucky or New Hampshire, to a U.S. consular post in any part of the world, an entire visa process could be submitted, reviewed and approved with the click of a mouse or tap of a screen.  The human perspective has shifted to an online experience.  The world has become smaller and technology is more accessible.  The systems currently in place by DOL and DOS are a good start, but with a concerted, planned effort, the immigration process can be brought into the 21st century.  And with a coordinated, modern, working digital  immigration system, Congress may just take notice and act to replace our current antiquated immigration laws with immigration laws fit for the 21st century.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Second Vice President


Preconceived Notions Shattered by Dilley

Author: on 07/16/2015


shutterstock_276175301Recently, Rochelle G. volunteered at the Dilley facility where nearly 2,000 mothers and children are incarcerated despite their status as asylum-seekers. Brian Hoffman, lead attorney for the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project which brings volunteers from all over the nation to help in this remote South Texas town, asked Rochelle about her experience:

Can you describe what you saw for us?

Small round tables surrounded by four plastic chairs.  Women holding crying and coughing toddlers sat in chairs against the back wall.  A children’s room with colored pages torn out of a coloring book papering the walls, and a large screen tv affixed to the top of one of the room’s corners, playing Frozen.  Signs on the walls of the outer room cautioned children in both English and Spanish about sexual abuse with colorful illustrations informing them about which parts of their bodies were off limits to others.  At first glance, I could have been in a pediatrician’s waiting room.

The children all seemed ill enough to further that illusion.  Every child seemed to have a wheezy cough and a congested chest.  Most of the toddlers lay listlessly in their mothers’ arms, pitiful caricatures of rag dolls.

Outside wasn’t any better. Rows of trailers surrounded by barbed wire in a barren, muddy field in the relentless heat and humidity of Southern Texas. It’s absurd to think that so much money is being spent to inadequately house and care for women and children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico who fled to the United States seeking asylum from domestic violence, gang violence and extortion.  It seemed disturbingly similar to the Texas State Prison down the road.  Yet the only crime these women had committed had been to enter the United States in search of a safe haven.

What struck you the most about Dilley?

One of the first things I noticed was the distinct lack of medical care.  Every time the women were asked about how they were addressing their children’s health issues, they responded that they had gone to the infirmary and that the staff there had told them to give the child water and to let it rest, despite their protestations that they had already been doing that for ten days.  One woman, whose son seemed gravely ill, said that she had even offered to pay for medication for him, but her request had been denied.  She lamented her fate and noted that in her home country she would at least have been able to obtain medication for her child. Another child was finally hospitalized after he had refused food for eleven days. When he arrived at the hospital, a legitimate healthcare facility outside the detention center, the staff noted that if he had been brought in even an hour later, he would have suffered severe brain damage.

What surprised you most about the mothers?

As I sat in on interviews and spoke to the women, my stereotypes shattered.  Women spoke of holding good jobs as bankers or computer engineers. I heard of a husband who was a pilot, and beautiful homes.  They spoke of going to college for advanced degrees, running track and their own businesses and of their fears for their children who were being recruited by gangs, persecuted by gangs, and threatened with violence.

I was ashamed that I had assumed that most of the women had suffered severe poverty and worked at low paying jobs in their home countries because they had not had the opportunity to receive an education beyond middle school.  Although, this was certainly true for some of the women, many of whom spoke of horrendous domestic violence, it was only a small part of the greater Latino refugee story.

One woman, whom I interviewed, spoke about the mortgage she had taken out to open her own hair salon and told me that she attended college at night for a computer engineering degree while raising her three children.  “I didn’t want to leave.  My business was doing well and I was on my way to realizing my dream of becoming a computer engineer.  But the gangs threatened to kill me and my family.”  I encouraged her not to let go of her dream and to obtain her computer engineering degree by attending college in the United States.

What would you tell potential volunteers?

This is one of the hardest and best things you will ever do. Ever. In your life. There are moments of extreme sadness and overwhelming joy and throughout it all you know you are making a difference. A joyous memory: on my last day at Dilley, a client’s sister was finally able to pay her bond and to send bus tickets.  The sheer joy on her face as she shared the news with me and invited me to come visit her and her family gave me an immense sense of fulfillment.  Until every mother and every child is free, we cannot stop this work. We need all of you to join in the fight to #EndFamilyDetention.

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers 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.


The Global Team Effort that Freed a Mother and Child

Author: on 07/09/2015


shutterstock_172985966Last Wednesday, July 3rd, a client from El Salvador won her merits hearing! I appeared with attorney Melisa Peña from Miami over video conference, while Elora Mukherjee appeared by telephone from Tokyo, Japan and John Bradley appeared, sitting next to the client, from Dilley, TX. Thank you to everyone, particularly Elora and law student Swapna Reddy who helped to prep this case remotely as part of the off-site merits team.

This was our first case where the client appeared in Dilley and was represented by counsel in Miami. We began to prep the case on Friday, June 19th, after Brian Hoffman, CARA Project lead attorney reached out to let us know the client had a merits hearing and was in need of pro bono counsel. The client is a survivor of sexual violence, born and raised in rural El Salvador. Her withholding claim was primarily based on sexual violence she suffered at the hands of her cousin, an M-18 gang leader. The client’s cousin raped her and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. He also forced her to leave her home, so he and his gang members could stay there. She had previously fled to Honduras, but her cousin followed her there and threatened her with death if she did not join his gang and become “his woman.”

Our client had two previous entries and this was her third entry to the United States. She had been apprehended by CBP both times, detained for two months and then returned to El Salvador. After the third entry, the client had a negative Reasonable Fear Interview (RFI), a favorable review from an immigration judge, and then a second RFI.

With the assistance of the amazing On-the-Ground team of Aseem Mehta, Ellen Miller, and Brian, I placed legal calls to our client five times. On June 24th we filed approximately 200 pages, including affidavits from the client, expert declarations, reports and news articles regarding femicide and gang violence. On June 26, I filed a motion for leave to file supplemental evidence, attaching an affidavit from the client’s mother and photographs of the home our client’s abuser invaded and then forced her to abandon.

On June 30, I filed a brief outlining the withholding claim but the logistics of representing our client for her merits hearing were daunting. I am a law student and my supervisor, Elora, was in Japan. We filed a motion for Elora to appear by telephone as my supervisor, which was granted on July 3rd. John Bradley, who had previously worked with the client during her second RFI, traveled to Texas while we prepared the case, to provide support to the client on-the-ground and potentially pinch hit if needed. The day of the hearing, the immigration judge hearing the case was concerned about the telephonic appearance because I would not be able to confer as easily with Elora. But another volunteer attorney, Melisa Peña, was in the building and supervised my appearance in person in immigration court.

There were no opening statements; we heard direct testimony from the client, followed by cross examination which was difficult for our client, but we prevailed. Not only did the client and her daughter go free, but she was interviewed by Telemundo after the decision so her story could be shared. Our client and her seven year old daughter were released that same day to John Bradley and stopped by to thank the CARA volunteers before getting on their way to reunite with her husband and her brother.

Please, please, please:  Consider taking these cases.  They are winnable – but the clients need YOU to help them. You can make a world of difference – either from Dilley or Miami or potentially appearing by telephone.

Volunteers can work on merits hearings remotely—just as Swapna, Elora and I did in this case.  If you are interested in taking on a merits case, but need some off-site support to do so, please reach out. Together we can bring these children and their mothers the safety and security they fled here to find.

Written by CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer Conchita Cruz

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers 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.


A Lot of Glass in Those Towers, Any Mirrors?

Author: on 07/08/2015


shutterstock_113897485Antonio Olivio of the Washington Post hit the nail on the head in his July 6th column (At Trump hotel site, immigrant workers wary) regarding the building of the new Trump luxury hotel in Washington DC.  Ever since Donald Trump made his ill-informed and untrue statements about Mexican and Latino immigrants, the spotlight has been turned onto Mr. Trump and how he earns his millions of dollars on a daily basis.  The public has since learned that Mr. Trump earns quite a lot of money on the backs of immigrant labor and even outsourced labor (see the now former Trump clothing line which was made in Mexico and China, among other countries).

As Mr. Olivio noted at the DC Trump project, many of the immigrant workers rise early and commute to the worksite in a professional manner to earn an honest living to support their spouses, children and families.  While Mr. Trump’s comments are offensive to them, the need to work and support their families is more important than pride.

However, based on Mr. Trump’s comments about Latino and Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, which he has voraciously defended as accurate, after reading this article it must be asked, how was Mr. Trump able to find enough professional Latino and Mexican immigrants who were not rapists and criminals to employ?  In the alternative, is Mr. Trump knowingly hiring the very criminals he ranted about to shamelessly obtain the media spotlight?

The truth is that Mr. Olivio’s article demonstrates what most Americans already know: the vast majority of Latino and Mexican immigrants are hard-working, self-sufficient proud people with a desire to earn a living and care for their own in the best country in the world.  They were not born into a wealthy family and left with a large inheritance like their employer.  Rather, they earn each dollar working for a man who values money more than the lives of his employees.

Take a look in one of your mirrors that was likely hung by an immigrant worker and that is now cleaned by an immigrant worker Mr. Trump, you might see someone who has earned a lot of money on the backs of hard working immigrants but has now lost something money cannot buy, self-respect.

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee


LGBT Detention Must End

Author: on 07/01/2015


shutterstock_142284691On June 23, 2015, 35 members of the House of Representatives wrote to Secretary Johnson, calling on the Obama Administration to end the detention of LGBT immigrants in ICE custody, especially transgender women.[1] The letter requested the administration seek parole and alternatives to detention for LGBT immigrants, including supervised release. These alternatives to the status quo are urgently needed because of every five victims of confirmed sexual abuse in ICE detention, one victim is transgender. This is a staggering statistic of victimhood for transgender individuals, especially when only around 75 trans persons are detained by ICE each day. While it does not need reminding, ICE is authorized to detain and house up to 34,000 immigrants in any given day.

The advocacy centered on LGBT immigrants is not an attempt to prefer LGBT detainees over the detainee population as a whole. The goal is ensure their safety while in the custody of the U.S. government and to drive the conversation of whether ICE/ERO can and should do better in releasing LGBT and non-LGBT detainees through alternatives to detention, instead of locking them up in jails for prolonged periods of time.

There are many arguments to be made as to why detention should be used sparingly. This includes the high cost of detaining individuals and the barriers created through the detention system for those who seek to find and hire a lawyer. However, the simple question remains: if a person is not a threat or a priority for removal and the person is likely to show up for an immigration hearing in the future, shouldn’t they be released?

In the context of LGBT immigrants, many flee their home countries due to persecution they have suffered on account of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They seek asylum in the U.S. to protect them from the harms suffered in their past or what awaits them if they are forced to return to a country that persecutes LGBT persons. Knowing why these LGBT individuals are present in the U.S. makes it extremely likely they will want to pursue their case in front of an immigration judge. Should LGBT immigrants benefit from some form of an alternative to detention, these LGBT immigrants would be safer, would be able to seek the help of family/friends, and would be able to find more resources to assist them in their legal cases. Most importantly, they would want to show up and fight their case in immigration court.

While there is much work to do surrounding the issue of LGBT detention, ICE/ERO recently announced that transgender women qualify to be housed in women’s detention facilities.[2] Additionally, ICE/ERO will train its personnel to inquire about gender identity to determine how an immigrant identifies, if that person so chooses to disclose.[3] While the impact of these trans-inclusive policies and the full implementation are yet to be seen, these actions do go a long way in the goal of ICE/ERO in providing “a respectful, safe, and secure environment for all detainees, including those individuals who identify as transgender.”[4]

Written by Mike Jarecki, Member of the AILA Media Advocacy Committee and the LGBT Immigration Issues Working Group

[1] http://www.aila.org/advo-media/whats-happening-in-congress/congressional-updates/35-reps-end-detention-lgbt-immigrants

[2] http://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2015/TransgenderCareMemorandum.pdf

[3] Id.

[4] Id.


A Long Journey for Justice: the Continuing Fight for LGBT Immigrants

Author: on 06/30/2015


shutterstock_56068639As the nation rejoiced after the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, I recalled the celebrations at AILA’s 2013 annual conference in San Francisco on the day that the Supreme Court decided Windsor v. Connecticut.   Windsor and subsequent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) directives made it clear that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would recognize marriages of couples of the same sex for immigration purposes.  However, while our clients no longer had to worry about physical separation and removal from their spouses or partners, they did have to suffer additional indignities  if they lived in a state that refused to recognize their marriage.  For that, we celebrate but also reflect on the bumpy path to equality.

As a measure of how far we have come, before 1990, being gay was a ground for inadmissibility.   Before Windsor, we had to either file for asylum for our gay clients or see them separated from their partners as we scrambled for other options in the non-immigrant realm.   While the US did not accord the right of marriage to same-sex couples, the absolute terror that many of our clients faced in their home countries due to their sexual orientation was real, and it was our job to help protect them.

I remember speaking at several forums about options for LGBT immigrants which seems so historical today.  I also recall that as AILA’s USCIS Liaison Committee Chair in 2010-2011, we pressed USCIS to hold marriage-based I-130 petitions for same-sex couples in abeyance as marriage was legal in certain states.  We argued that while it was inhumane to separate committed couples before they were allowed to marry in any US jurisdiction, it was draconian and bigoted to place someone married to a US citizen in removal proceedings after denying their I-130 petition.  It was essentially an immigration policy which was in the same league as the over-150-year U.S. ban on naturalization for “nonwhites.”

At the Upper Midwest chapter conference in 2011, I brought that issue to my co-panelist, a USCIS adjudicator from Minneapolis, and he had that same look of empathy we got from USCIS headquarters, but the same line that they could not issue a blanket policy of holding these cases in abeyance.   I loved doing that work because as with many of our actions, it was a fight both to keep people together and for basic justice.  It was an unconscionable form of discrimination nationwide and USCIS was caught in that web of injustice.  I was thrilled that AILA did its part to raise consciousness and move the universal arc one step closer to justice.

This spring I spoke on a panel with Ali Bushara, a Ugandan gay man who fled his country last year.  We talked about his personal journey, but also the increasing persecution of gay people in many parts of the world such as Russia, which has codified laws to bar adoptions by LGBT members of society.

As my conversation with Ali and my unmarried LGBT clients continue to teach me, the role that AILA has played in seeking justice, equality and protection for LGBT immigrants cannot be set aside after this momentous decision.  We should continue to write, speak and advocate on behalf of basic human rights and make sure that State Department reports are consistent with what we hear from our clients and colleagues.

Written by Mark Shmueli, Member of the AILA EOIR Liaison Committee and the Distance Learning Committee


A Call to Arms

Author: on 06/29/2015


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End of the day “Big Table” as volunteers discuss what they saw, learned, and felt over the course of the day in Dilley.

(With thanks to Sir Winston Churchill)

Last week, I spoke with some of our government contacts about the changes that are on the very near horizon here in Dilley. Due, I imagine, to the Congressional visit, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s announcement, and the Flores litigation, the asylum office will ramp up to 23 staff members next week. This is more than twice the number of asylum staff we have ever had. They will be using conference rooms and judge’s chambers as additional office space, and the increased number of officers will allow them to start conducting as many as 50 asylum interviews per day, including now conducting interviews on Saturdays. In addition, the Miami court will add a third judge to the Dilley docket in the coming weeks. We expect to reach facility capacity of 2400 detainees any day now.

All of this means we need to step up our game in a big way.

I can tell you in no uncertain terms that we are making a huge difference in people’s lives. There is zero doubt in my mind that there are children walking the Earth today who would be dead but for what CLINIC, AILA, RAICES, and the American Immigration Council have come together as CARA to do here. I don’t tell all of you often enough how grateful I am for the opportunity to work on this project, and for making this possible. Thank you. This week I decided that, having resigned from my firm in Ohio earlier this month, I will continue working here in Dilley indefinitely, beyond my initial six month commitment. In fact, I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world right now, and I’m hoping to meet many more of you here in the coming months.

Here in Dilley we are waging a war. It’s a war against bureaucratic indifference, against a broken immigration system that tears apart families and costs innumerable innocent lives, and against the banal cruelty of mass detention. Upon the outcome of this war depends the survival of our notion of America as a compassionate nation. Upon it depends our ability to still believe that America is a beacon of hope in a world of persecution. The whole fury and might of the bureaucratic deportation machine is being focused here in Dilley. DHS knows that they will have to overwhelm us with the sheer number of detainees and the volumes of red tape, or they will lose this war. If we succeed, if we can stand up to this oppression, then all detained families can eventually be free, and we can transition the momentum of this fight forward to combat all of the other injustices of the mass detention of immigrants and minorities. But if we fail, then America may sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age of permanent family internment camps, made more sinister by the indifference or open vitriol of an American public callous enough to let this happen.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that, if the CARA coalition and its pillar organizations last for a thousand years, it will still be said that “This was their finest hour.”

Please share this message, and I hope to see you in Dilley very soon.

Written by CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Lead Attorney Brian Hoffman

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If you are an AILA member, paralegal, or translator, who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers 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.


Little By Little, We Tear Down the Walls of Family Detention

Author: on 06/25/2015


shutterstock_31206451In June of 2014, the first and most remote Family Detention Center opened in Artesia.  The move was a concerted effort by the Administration to deter the influx of mothers and children and unaccompanied minors from Central America fleeing violence, persecution and despair.  The Administration’s premise: “deterrence of future economic migration.”

The response from advocates was speedy, forceful and determined.  Hundreds of immigration lawyers, professors, interpreters, social workers, experts, and willing volunteers traveled to the isolated detention center and began the fight to end family detention.  Their efforts were successful and Artesia closed in December of 2014 just six months after it opened.

The Administration however was not about to end this practice.  It set up two more detention centers in Texas – Dilley and Karnes.  Some of the women and children previously interned at Artesia were transferred to one or the other facility.  Hundreds more were placed there. Advocates mobilized and efforts increased.  The battle had just begun.  The irrational and unreasonable obstacles the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) invented to prevent these women and children from having access to counsel demonstrated the absurd efforts the agency was willing to go through to keep this profitable machinery going.  Yes – there is profit in detention.  At the cost of approximately $350 per day, per person, being paid to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the enterprise of family detention is very profitable.  So, from refusing entrance to women wearing underwire bras or limiting the ability of attorneys to bring in needed electronic devices, to refusing entrance to volunteers for no good reason, ICE tried to play every trick in the book – but advocates fought back and fought hard.

Meanwhile these women and children languished in prison, slowly breaking down when the hopes of freedom seemed bleak.  Bonds were initially set unreasonably high, ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 – until again advocates pushed the agency back, successfully quashing the agency’s argument that these mothers and children were a result of “organized influx” and that “reports and rumors of successful entries could encourage further mass migration attempts.”   The children were malnourished and the women depressed, living in this horrific place called a “Family Residential Center.”  One woman attempted suicide; others went on a hunger strike.

Study after study demonstrates the long term psychological harm these young children will suffer from continued detention.  In response to the loud, clear and powerful outcries from advocates, a statement from ICE appeared in the media earlier this week noting that:  “Family residential centers are an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity as families go through immigration proceedings or await return to their home countries.”  AILA’s President Victor Nieblas replied quickly, “In all my 19 years of experience as an immigration attorney, I have never heard a federal agency rewrite history to this extent.”  And that is precisely what the Administration and the Agency are doing: rewriting history to justify unconscionable action against asylum seekers, against victims of persecution, defenseless children and distressed mothers.

In the words of Winston Churchill: “never, never, never give up.”  Volunteers, advocates, lawyers, experts have not given up and the walls of detention centers are coming down.  The Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Jeh C. Johnson released a statement on June 24, 2015 in which the agency finally acknowledges that “…long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued” and that the agency will discontinue invoking general deterrence as a factor in custody determinations in all cases involving families.  That is a far cry from the agency’s initial position last year! The tide is turning, but the work is far from done.  We must continue to articulate our message to #EndFamilyDetention.  Secretary Johnson also announced the agency will  conduct interviews to determine if the families have a credible or reasonable fear of persecution, and offer “reasonable and realistic” bonds or other terms of release for those who demonstrate such fear.   These are concrete changes ICE must make in good faith.

We must remain vigilant; we must watch and make sure the changes Secretary Johnson has announced are actually implemented and followed through by ICE officers.  But these changes are not enough. We will not stop until we have put an end to family detention.  There is no justification, excuse, or reasonable argument to rationalize why children—accompanied or not accompanied by a parent—should be detained.

The war is ongoing, the battles are being won, the walls are coming down, and our mission is still clear: end family detention, once and for all.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA First Vice President

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If you are an AILA member, paralegal, or translator, who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers 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.