Beirut and Paris, What Can We Do?

Author: on 11/23/2015

Syrian-refugee-crisis_crcleThe recent events in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris have brought feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. While these feelings in the coming weeks may subside and take a backseat to the holiday season, they will not entirely go away. And, they shouldn’t. The thought that there has to be something we can do, something we can fight for, will hopefully remain. Many of us are up every night thinking and talking at length about these events and their impact. This is, of course, much bigger than we are but it does not mean that we cannot or should not do anything. We need to do something.

Because this impacts all of us, especially the immigration bar, we need to start a larger discussion. We need to speak out against this xenophobic anti-refugee, anti-Muslim backlash.  We need to be open, be frank, be courageous and be hopeful. We need a deeper conversation among each other, within our communities and with those who do not share the same perspective. There is so much misinformation and misuse of facts. Fear and lack of understanding is dictating impulsive and hateful actions. Many in Congress are aiming to halt the refugee resettlement program for those from Iraq and Syria, while millions of refugees are desperately asking for help. Governors in 31 states are touting that they want to close their doors to Syrian refugees, with one governor already turning two families away. And, this is just the beginning. As immigration professionals, we are in a position to highlight the facts, speak the truth, and hold our elected officials accountable. We understand the immigration system better than anyone—we know the intricacies, the process, and what is required.

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Scapegoating Refugees is Not the Solution

Author: on 11/19/2015

shutterstock_239484691Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, I live in constant fear. Many of us do. It’s a natural reaction. Every day we step outside we are exposing ourselves to those things we fear. I fear a texting driver may hit my car. I fear a person with a gun could shoot up a business I’m patronizing or a nearby school. I fear my health could fail unexpectedly. Do I let this fear consume me? Not at all. But, I don’t completely discard this fear, and I am mindful of how fortunate I am to be alive each day. I am one of the lucky ones. In 1948, with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the United States gave my own family an opportunity to survive, and we have thrived thanks to those protections provided by this country.

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Building Bridges Rather than Walls

Author: on 11/12/2015

shutterstock_104467115Congratulations to the people and elected representatives of San Diego.

As many of us know in the immigration field, it is so easy for politicians, press and the public to demonize and scapegoat immigrants of all colors, creeds, and convictions.  For years we have heard the loud cries to “build a bigger wall” or “build more walls” in order to protect American communities on the U.S.-Mexico border.  But walls aren’t always the answer, and San Diego has had enough of being told what is good for them by bureaucrats who live far from the border and carry a different agenda.

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Warning: Content Not Safe for Your Peace of Mind

Author: on 11/05/2015

shutterstock_121160620Ana was all of 11 days old when we met at the Berks Detention Center.  She was not always the most cooperative client. I don’t believe she even bothered to look at me in the two weeks she resided at the detention center. In fact her eyes didn’t open at all. She had extremely poor communication skills, well, no communication skills in fact. I bored her to sleep most days. I am also quite positive that I annoyed her with my constant ogling and raving about her cuteness. We got by, however, and I could see her story and her cause in her very tiny, pink hands.

She is now one of my best friends.  As we sat in court last week, she brilliantly turned her obstinance away from me and directed it toward her adversaries and the Immigration Court.  She has grown into the most beautiful, chubby, happy, ten-month-old baby. We, the grown-ups, sat patiently awaiting court, but Ana was having none of it.  She would peek out of her car seat every moment or two, make eye contact with me, screech and smile. She has mastered rocking in her car seat, and did so with impunity as the judge attempted to conduct what is a very serious removal proceeding that will determine her future and her safety.  Though Ana has already succeeded in defeating removal proceedings on one occasion, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has determined that it would like a second chance to order the removal of this spectacular girl, while her mother continues to fight for her right to live, free from persecution, in the United States.

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Babies in Jail

Author: on 11/04/2015


“What are they being detained for, spilling milk?” Those are the words of my friend Dawn when I told her I was volunteering at “baby jail” for the week.  Something about her response struck a nerve with me. To every sane, reasonable person in the U.S., the thought of putting a baby in jail is the most ridiculous proposition in the world. If someone said, “we should detain that baby for spilling his milk,” you would laugh, because of COURSE that’s not something we would do. The idea that there could be any reason to put a baby in jail is so far-fetched that this person couldn’t possibly be serious. But yet, this is what is happening, right here in the United States.

I recently returned from spending five days at the “South Texas Family Residential Center” in Dilley, Texas. The week I was there, approximately 2,000 children and their mothers were detained at the jail, most fleeing from horrific violence in Central America.  The officials tell us it’s a “family residential center” where all their needs are being taken care of. However, let’s not mince words. The mothers and children here are in jail, where they have strict rules about when they can leave their cells (“rooms”), are assigned matching uniforms (though in different colors, how nice), and have to listen to instructions from a guard as to when and how to discipline their children. They are forced to eat unfamiliar food that their stomachs can’t handle, and to wait three to five or more hours in 90 to 100 degree Texas heat to see a doctor for any medical issues that arise. The doctor typically tells the women and children to “drink water” to alleviate any one of a plethora of illnesses.  Pain relievers are often given in a single dose, and the women must come back and wait again if they need more.  They are not free to leave the center, and can only visit with friends and family during set visiting hours. And that’s if their family can even make it out to see them – the center is located in southern Texas, over an hour from the nearest airport in San Antonio, and many, many hours away from most of their family members living in other states in the U.S.

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The Un-American Nature of Prison Bed Quotas

Author: on 11/03/2015

shutterstock_170934761It has never been easy to be an immigration attorney.  Faced with combatting injustice without sufficient resources, those of us who represent detained immigrants have seen these challenges increase with the recent hyper-growth of the private prison industry (PPI): 1600% increase in the number of beds from 1990 to 2010.

More than half of the industry’s $3 billion in profits comes from the detention of immigrants.  Not surprisingly, due to PPI’s muscular lobbying efforts, there is scant congressional oversight of the industry.  Over time, GEO and CCA, the two largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. have given more than $10 million to individual politicians and spent almost $25 million on lobbying Congress.

As a result, we now live in a country where immigrants are treated as commodities.  There are more than 200 detention facilities in the U.S. that operate under a congressional mandate of keeping 34,000 available beds per day.  Despite testimony by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson that the 34,000 bed mandate is more of an availability target than a quota, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spends almost $2 billion a year, in part, on keeping these beds occupied. The result: a huge portion of the money is funneled to PPI.

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An Unforgivable Waste

Author: on 11/02/2015

shutterstock_213214372It was not until I sat on the plane, notebook open, pen in hand, when it hit me. The emotion came; I felt the tightening in my throat and tears forming in the corners of my eyes. It was only now that I could allow myself to fully process what I had just finally witnessed firsthand. Now that I was on my way back to my baby, the beautiful little being who has brought so much joy, definition, and purpose to my life, could I actually begin to reflect on the fact that I had just spent the week working inside a jail for babies.

Of course, I was very well-prepared for this trip. I am an immigration lawyer, specialized in representing women fleeing gender-based violence. And, for the past three and a half months I have been working from Washington DC as part of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project with the American Immigration Council on efforts to end the detention of immigrant mothers and children seeking refuge in the United States.

And so, I was well aware of the chaos that we fondly refer to as “OTG” – on the ground at the U.S. government’s family detention center in Dilley, Texas. And, if that sounds like military terminology, it should – it does feel like being “on the ground” in a constantly shifting war zone. It is more civilized than actual war, but, make no mistake, this is a battle.

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Protecting the Survivors

Author: on 10/30/2015

shutterstock_242098315Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we wanted to take this opportunity to draw attention to the need for AILA member expertise to help survivors, the challenges involved, and also highlight some ways that immigration attorneys can make a huge difference by getting involved and offering assistance.

Immigration benefits for the survivors of domestic violence come in many forms, including Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, I-751 domestic violence-based waivers, U and T visas, and asylum cases. Whatever the benefit, immigrant survivors face numerous systemic, linguistic, and cultural barriers in accessing the legal protections designed to assist them. The lack of legal immigration status is commonly used as a weapon by abusers to maintain power and control within their relationships. Some common examples of this include threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on victims, withdrawing immigration papers, or telling victims that if they were to call the police, they would be the ones arrested for their lack of status.

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I-140 Employment Card Rule Could Be a Winner for Both American and Immigrant Workers

Author: on 10/29/2015

shutterstock_320637917It’s no secret that the U.S. has shortages of workers in a variety of fields. Our immigration system seemingly provides a solution to the problem. If an employer is willing to undertake a complicated recruiting process where the position is advertised in a variety of places and the employer is willing to pay the going wage rate in the community, and if the employer can show that there are no available, qualified U.S. workers, the employer can file a visa petition to sponsor an immigrant to fill the position. That would work, except that there are quota rules that mean many, if not most of those immigrants end up waiting decades in line to receive their green cards. Indian nationals in the EB-3 category for workers with bachelor’s degrees, for example, face backlogs that at least one study estimates may be as long as 70 years.

Many of these immigrants are already in the U.S. on temporary work visas and can work while awaiting a green card. But this is a small comfort. If an immigrant worker tries to change employers, the first employer could withdraw the visa petition and the immigrant could have to start the whole process all over again. The same is true if the employer goes out of business. And because the immigrant visa petition is for a specific position at a specific salary in a specific geographic location, job mobility for these employees is extremely limited. Any sort of move, such as a promotion to a higher paid position or a transfer to another location, could jeopardize the green card process. So people wait. And wait. And wait.

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Dilley and Baseball

Author: on 10/23/2015

shutterstock_258101783My recent trip to Dilley, Texas, was a joy, a pleasure, a treat.  Not exactly what you would expect me to say in this piece, but in comparison to the hellhole that was Artesia, Dilley was refreshing.  Maybe because of the great staff, the routine, the fact that there was not a major crisis the week I was in Dilley – no one got deported, no attorney was banned, and the volunteers were allowed to work their tails off unhindered by the guards.  So, it was a pleasant and refreshing surprise.

But, since I have been back to the humdrum of daily law practice in Kansas City, I have constantly felt a drag on my heart.  As I read the hundreds of e-mails from the Dilley volunteers on the ground, I just want to pack my bag to head back down.  Hell – it’s not really unpacked yet.  I check on each of my “clients” from the week – to see who has been released, who is still waiting, who has a negative decision.  I dream about them, worry about them, and pray for them.

The week of September 14th, we took nine people from Missouri to Dilley from our chapter, and the following week, another eight people from the Kansas side of our chapter made the trek.  Our MO/KS chapter generously supported the volunteer efforts by paying for the hotel rooms – a contribution that helped enormously in volunteer recruitment.  Every single volunteer had a positive experience, and it was a great way to get to know colleagues better and build friendships.  It has been a thrill watching our members get active – speaking at events, writing pieces about their time there, and making plans to return.  Every gift of time and energy that was given in Dilley was rewarded ten-fold.

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