A Silent Crisis: Children Experiencing Trauma in Family Detention

Author: on 03/26/2015


shutterstock_156012083During my week as a volunteer attorney in San Antonio, I visited with a mother and child at the Karnes family detention center who had been transferred from the Artesia detention center when it closed.   The mother and her young son had already been detained for seven months, and I was helping to prepare them for their merits hearing.  Their case was compelling and harrowing, like many of the mothers and children detained in these family detention centers.  The mother had suffered horrendous sexual, physical, and emotional abuse as a child, suffered domestic violence as an adult, and then finally fled for her life and the life of her child when the gangs threatened to kill her and her son.  Sadly, it’s a story shared by many of the women detained in Dilley and Karnes, and those who were detained in Artesia.  Sadder still, it’s a story that this woman has had to repeat over and over again while locked up in detention – to the Border Patrol officers when she was crossed into the United States; to the asylum office during her interview; to a multitude of volunteer advocates trying to help her with her case; to the various immigration judges who have presided over her case as jurisdiction changed from Immigration Courts in Virginia, Denver, and now San Antonio.

Those seven months in detention, the uncertainty of her fate and that of her child, and their declining mental and physical health, weighed heavily on this young mother.  The first thing she said to me when I met her was, “Are you new?”  She was tired of telling her story.  She was tired of reliving her pain.  She was tired of being detained and not knowing when she would be released and if she would be deported to face death at the hands of the gangs who have taken over much of her country.

But what struck me the most was this woman’s son.  Only a few years old and having witnessed a violent murder on the streets of his town, he was already severely traumatized before his mother brought him to the United States.  His mother said that he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, “There’s blood everywhere! They’re going to kill us!” When I began interviewing the mother in one of the attorney visit rooms in the detention center to practice her testimony for her hearing, her son was there with us.  Just as he would have been during countless other meetings where this mother had to explain everything that she and her son had been through at home that caused them to seek asylum here.  As soon as I started asking the mother about the sexual abuse she experienced as a child, her son curled up on the floor crying with his hands over his ears, sobbing, “Mommy no, mommy no.”  All I could do was send her son out of the room to wait outside by himself.  There was no other choice—prepping the mother for their hearing was the only way to save their lives.  But every day in detention, this child suffered.  He suffered from being in various detention centers that looked and functioned like prisons.  He suffered from diarrhea and had lost significant weight due to bad food, and at Karnes, bad water.  He never got psychological counseling or treatment to help him recover from witnessing brutality at such a young age.  And he suffered from reliving all of that trauma and hearing about his mother’s trauma over and over and over again.

On my flight home from San Antonio, there was a medical emergency with one of the passengers seated two rows in front of me.  I watched as passengers seated nearby stood up in panic to try ring the call button and wave down one of the flight attendants.  A small boy was having a seizure in his parents’ arms.  A flight attendant got on the loud speaker and called out for any medical personnel on board to come and assist.  A dozen people rushed over, identifying themselves as doctors and nurses.  The isles were cleared, drink carts were tucked away, and the passengers were asked for their patience and understanding as all attention focused on this child.  Passengers nearby listened and watched intently.  One woman in the row next to me even offered her own anti-seizure medicine to help.  A flight attendant stood by and handed an oxygen tank and box of medical supplies to the doctor who had taken charge. She asked the doctor in a hushed voice if we needed to land the plane to get the child emergency medical attention.  The panic subsided as the doctor counseling the parents determined that it was a febrile seizure, and he gave the child medicine to bring his fever down.  The doctor stayed with the parents until the child seemed better, and we continued our flight home, everyone safe and sound.

And I thought about that boy in the detention center, crying alone on the floor with his hands over his ears to try and block out the pain, to stop the nightmare that he couldn’t escape.   No one came running.  There was no one to call for help.

Written by Eileen Sterlock, AILA Member and Family Detention Volunteer 

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the 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 at Artesia and elsewhere 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 Promise Unfulfilled

Author: on 03/23/2015


shutterstock_126747830Last November, President Obama promised reforms to immigration enforcement that focus on actual threats to public safety while keeping immigrant families together.  He evoked a more humane enforcement system where resources are not spent jailing vulnerable individuals. One of his November reforms explicitly said the detention of primary caretakers of children is “not in the public interest.”  The President should keep those promises.

So why, months later, is M-, the mother of a U.S. citizen child, fleeing persecution by the gang that murdered her sister and against whom both of her parents testified in court, still in detention?

Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to Secretary Johnson asking for the release of two Central American families who have been incarcerated for 8 months this week. Originally held at Artesia, these families are now detained at the family facility in Karnes, Texas.

Think of that. Eight months of detention for M- and her four-year-old daughter E-, who was born in Guatemala. Detention comes with a price, and in E-’s case, she has paid with her health. She has suffered chronic illnesses while in detention – including hospitalization for acute bronchitis and ongoing nebulizer treatments.

M- has no criminal history whatsoever. She poses no public safety threat to anyone. And she has strong ties to the United States. All she wants to do is reunite with her family on Long Island, New York: her older daughter, a U.S. citizen, is waiting there as well as other close relatives, some U.S. citizens, some lawful permanent residents. They want her and E- to be safe and cared for – they have all written to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) saying they are willing and able to care for M- and E- and ensure they show up for their hearings.

Anywhere else in the United States, M-’s continued detention would be completely antithetical to President Obama’s executive actions. Anywhere else but the border. Because of her status as a “recent border crosser,” the Administration is ignoring all the other promises President Obama announced with great fanfare last November.

It is a stark hypocrisy: the Administration’s insistence on detaining families while promoting executive reforms in every other realm of immigration enforcement. That hypocrisy is driven by a lack of political will to undo rash policy decisions made last summer when refugees first started coming in larger numbers from Central America. The President knows so much more now than he did last summer about why they are coming – it’s extreme and deadly violence, pure and simple. He cannot deny they deserve protection and must correct the mistake of detention.

M- does not deserve to be detained at all, yet she may be deported as early as next Tuesday. After spending eight months jailed, and after those eight months have severely affected her child’s health, she and her young daughter may be sent back to grave danger.

This is a wrong that must be righted. M- should be released to her family and have a meaningful chance to seek relief. She and E- aren’t a threat to national security, or border security, or anyone’s security.  They are the most vulnerable among us and deserve our help.

ICE Director Sarah Saldana testified last week about new rules she issued on reviewing the detention and release of those with criminal convictions.  Why can’t she issue rules covering families with children?  Why can’t she and our President protect M-?

As the most powerful leader in the world, President Obama must ensure his promises reach all the way to the border where that power could save lives.

Written by Stephen Manning, Member of the AILA Board of Governors

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the 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 at Artesia and elsewhere 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.


How One Life Was Changed at NDA

Author: on 03/18/2015


AILA_Keychain_FrontNational Day of Action (what used to be called “Lobby Day”) is an AILA tradition that goes back a number of years. I’ve participated many times, and each time it is different. Each time I come out heartened by some Congressional visits, disheartened by others, but always feeling a part of something greater and ready to keep fighting for my clients.

One of my clients was directly impacted by my NDA participation a few years ago and I wanted to share that story.

It was back in 2010 when our group met with Rep. Velasquez. It’s unusual to get an appointment with your actual legislator, so most often we meet with one of the legislative aides. But this time it was with the Congressional Member herself.

It was just after the terrible Haiti earthquake.  I had a client, a United States Citizen dad, here in New York who was trying to get his newborn child to the US.  The child was born and she and mom were released from the hospital one day before the quake hit; the hospital collapsed in the quake the next day.

We had been trying for months to get the birth certificate or some other proof to the US Embassy in Haiti so that we could get the visa issued. Obviously, the embassy was swamped with requests and work related to the quake, which we understood, but there were some incredibly frustrating delays and run around with the Post that lasted for months.

While we were talking to Rep. Velasquez at our meeting, educating her about immigration reform and how important it is to fix the broken system, I happened to mention this case as an example.  Suddenly her eyes lit up. She jumped out of her chair and called her aide into our meeting and told him to get my name and number and that she would see what she could do. As soon as I got back to the office the next day I gave the aide the details and file number.

The child was in New York a month later.

This sort of result is the exception, not the rule. These meetings are not to ask for help for individual cases, but to educate and advocate on immigration issues. But I used a concrete example in this meeting to illustrate a point, and got this amazing and exceptional result. No one should come to NDA solely for this purpose, but what a story!

So despite the deadlock in Congress, I will be at NDA this year again, as usual. Because you never know when a comment you make in a meeting can inform a congressional hearing question, even months later. You never know how sharing your card with a legislative assistant can lead to being asked for information when a bill is being drafted. And you never know how an offhand comment can reunite a family.

Written by George Akst, NDA Attendee and AILA Member

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To register for NDA 2015, go to Agora and sign upit’s free!


Could Negotiated Rulemaking Save H-2B?

Author: on 03/17/2015


shutterstock_191505380Businesses that rely on seasonal, nonagricultural labor have had a hard time recruiting US workers as the economy has improved and overall unemployment and underemployment have fallen. These businesses — from seafood producers in Louisiana, Alaska and Maryland to resorts in Colorado and Maine to landscaping companies all over the U.S. — have relied on the H-2B visa program to supplement their US workforce during their seasonal peak loads. These businesses are trying to use a program that promotes legal workers coming from Mexico and other countries where a season working in the US can provide meaningful support to families, which also reduces pressure to immigrate illegally.

Unfortunately, a court fight about the program’s regulations has shut it down completely as of earlier this month. The H-2B program operated for decades without a formal regulatory framework, relying on informal guidance and practices in place since the program was first created. In 2008, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) issued regulations to codify some aspects of the program and change others to make it more user-friendly.  By making it easier to hire legal workers from abroad if US workers were unavailable, DOL and USCIS hoped to reduce the pressure on businesses to hire illegal workers to meet their labor needs.

These regulations were challenged in court by worker’s rights groups, objecting to parts of the regulation dealing with how the minimum wages for workers in the program were set. New regulations were proposed by DOL in 2010 to address the wage issue and were to have gone into effect in 2012, but appropriations riders have prevented it from doing so and litigation continues, incorporating additional challenges to this rule.

The present impasse has resulted in a complete shutdown of the H-2B program, an unprecedented situation that has businesses and the workers they were planning to bring to the US in a bind. Since one appeals court held that DOL could not allow employers to use private wage surveys to determine the minimum wage to be offered, and another appeals court went further to hold that DOL had no authority to make rules about the program at all, DOL and USCIS both said they were unable to operate the program and ceased taking new applications, just as employers were gearing up for the summer season.

Over the weekend, it came out that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DOL are rushing through the process of a new rulemaking that will be issued jointly, likely in response to the appeals court order that DOL has no independent rulemaking authority over the H-2B program. An Interim Final Rule would allow processing of applications to be restarted. No matter what the rulemaking says, however, chances are good that either the business or worker groups or both will be unhappy with parts of it, so litigation will continue.

Is there a better way? The H-2B program only applies to nonagricultural employment, and similar strife between growers and worker advocates made rulemaking for the H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers difficult. Because of the strong demand for immigrant labor in the agricultural industry, however, the need for an updated statutory framework for H-2A was recognized in the early 2000’s, when discussion of the bills that eventually became the Senate’s 2005 comprehensive immigration reform bill began. At that time, recognizing that both business and worker groups would have to support the statutory framework in order for it to have any hope of passing, they joined together to work with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft what became known as the “AGJOBS Bill.” By working together growers and worker groups were able to craft a statutory framework that both sides were comfortable supporting, though neither side got everything it wanted.

Given the current tension between seasonal businesses and the worker groups, perhaps the time has come to step out of the courtroom and come to the negotiating table. Coming up with a compromise framework will not be easy – but then many said the growers and workers would never be able to agree on AGJOBS. Indeed, at this point the result need not even be a statutory framework (which is fortunate given that AGJOBS has not been able to pass separately from broader immigration reform). Because an interim Final Rule will have to be open for notice and comment by the public, a negotiated rulemaking between the agencies and a unified, compromise regulatory framework supported by both businesses and worker groups will put an end to the litigation and provide a sound framework for a temporary worker program that protects job opportunities and wages for US workers seeking seasonal work, while giving access to legal temporary workers to businesses who have been unable to find such US workers.

A functioning H-2B program is in America’s interest. Such a program promotes a legal workforce, supports jobs in the US, and grows the economy. While comprehensively reforming the immigration statute will be difficult, coming together to support regulatory reform for the H-2B program should be something businesses and worker groups can join in together.

By William Stock, AILA First Vice President

Updated 3/18/2015


Can a Surge Protector Generate a Spark?

Author: on 03/12/2015


IMG_4447 (2)My three Case Western Reserve University School of Law students and I are part of an Ohio and New York volunteer legal team at Dilley, Texas (see photo). I had been to Artesia, and volunteered there, but while there are similarities between the two facilities, there are also differences. The biggest difference is that Dilley (the South Texas Family Residential Center) is being run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

As the contractor, CCA runs the facility pursuant to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) directives.  The last thing that CCA wants to do is infuriate the golden hand that feeds them.  Once the permanent facility is up and running, it can hold over 2,000 detainees.  At the going government rate to house and shelter a detainee, approximately $296/day, for 2,000 detainees, CCA will earn almost $500,000 per day once the facility is full. Per. Day.

CCA is a very effective buffer between our volunteer group and ICE.  The majority of our interactions are with CCA.  To get to speak with an ICE officer to negotiate bond or discuss release or parole requires determination, email addresses, and finesse — and ICE officers to visit us, as we are not permitted to visit them.

This is the first week that volunteers are permitted to use laptops inside the temporary facility (the permanent side is opening next week, on March 17). To use our computers, we have a wireless hot spot to help facilitate use of the internet – a requirement for the law office that we essentially bring into the facility every morning, and tear down every night.  To get the best (only) signal, the wifi hot spot must be by a window and the short hotspot cord doesn’t reach from the outlet to the window.  So, I brought a surge protector (see photo).   Obtaining access to laptops took time – and the benefit of laptops and wireless hotspots made quite a difference.  The hotspots were assumed (by me) to be part and parcel of the laptop package (well, I assumed they were included and didn’t ask too many questions about it).

The second morning, we appeared at the facility bright and early at 8:00a, ready to start our day.  We unloaded our law books, files, laptops, and some munchies — a loaf of bread and peanut butter.  The strawberry jelly (my favorite), sadly, was rejected by security because it was in a glass container.  An aluminum container of wasabi peas didn’t get clearance either and went back to the car to be returned to the hotel for future snacks. The children’s stickers, silly putty, and barrettes — all rejected because “we provide everything that the residents need”. (“Everything but legal representation” ran through my head, but I held my tongue).  In my bag, I brought back the same surge protector that we used Monday to power the hotspot.

The guard at the desk would not permit me to enter the facility with the surge protector. I insisted.  She refused.  Many of the ICE higher ups were passing through security at the same time; I don’t know if this influenced the intensity of the search.  All I know is that I stood and waited… for fifty minutes… and finally received clearance after the AFOD (Assistant Field Office Director, the one in charge of the facility) was passing through security and provided oral consent to bring the surge protector into the facility.  But that wasn’t the end of it.

There are requirements within the facility of having escorts and we know that we cannot go <anywhere> unescorted. Little did I know that my surge protector was so dangerous to the facility – or perhaps, to the relationship between CCA and ICE – that it required its own babysitter. So, some poor soul from CCA was detailed all day only to sit and make sure that my surge protector was safe.  Once that first poor soul’s shift was over, a second soul had to watch over it, and escort it out with me at the end of the day.  My whole team had to wait another fifteen minutes for a CCA supervisor to come to the front desk to sign out the surge protector.

I would like to think that a revolution begins with a spark, not a surge protector.  But we have to start somewhere. These barricades are high but we are not dissuaded. We will continue the fight to help these kids and moms have a meaningful chance to be released under reasonable bond, and request asylum.  Together, one volunteer dream team at a time, we will #EndFamilyDetention.

My dream team consists of: Peyton 2

  • Michelle Mendez (who helped transition into this week)
  • Sister Marlene Perrotte (interpreter)
  • Father Rob Reidy (Padre, interpreter)
  • Carmen Rivera (interpreter)
  • Lauren Deutsch (attorney from New York)
  • Brian “The Hoff” Hoffman (attorney from Ohio – and Artesia bulldog)
  • Svetlana Schreiber (attorney from Ohio)
  • Madeline Jack (student CWRU School of Law, Cleveland OH)
  • Harrison Blythe (student CWRU School of Law, Cleveland OH)
  • JoAnna Gavigan (student CWRU School of Law, Cleveland OH)

 Written by Jennifer Peyton, AILA Member and Dilley Team Lead

To read more about her time in Dilley, see Immigrationpeyton.blogspot.com.

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to AILA’s Dilley 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 at Artesia and elsewhere 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.


Hope and Disappointment in Dilley

Author: on 03/03/2015


Dilley_300x240I spent last week at the detention center in Dilley, Texas, volunteering to help mothers and children detained there. Having previously experienced the harsh conditions at the facility in Artesia, I was immediately struck by the visible differences here in Dilley. Any former Artesia volunteer will do a double-take at the sight of a toddler-sized slide in the visitation trailer, or a guard bringing coffee to a mom waiting to meet with her attorney. At the beginning of the week I thought the air of hope I felt in the visitation trailer had to do with better conditions in the facility.

I was wrong. Although it’s a slightly “prettier” jail than Artesia was, it’s still a jail, and the women and children detained there feel this deeply. The air of hope I felt in the beginning had nothing to do with having toys for the kids in the play area. Rather, news of the RILR victory had spread like wildfire in the facility over the weekend, and the women thought they might have a chance at bonds their families could afford to pay. At some point on Thursday, these hopes were dashed as women were herded en masse in to the courtrooms, where ICE officers handed many of them paperwork for either a $7,500 or $10,000 bond, with no explanation of how they had decided on such a high number.

The atmosphere in the facility completely changed after this. The women we saw were despondent and confused, knowing their families couldn’t pay this amount, and wondering why such a high price should be put on their heads. One of the few “individualized determinations” we saw was in the case of a woman who fled with her toddler after receiving death threats from a gang. A week after arriving in Dilley, she found out that the gang had made good on their threats, killing the 6-year-old daughter she had been forced to leave behind. She was still in the facility when I left – her family couldn’t afford to pay the $4,000 bond ICE had set for her.

I know there’s a lot of work to be done building this project, and it seems daunting at the outset. But I also know that we need to be there, and we need to build a sense of trust and commitment between the volunteers and the detainees just like we did in Artesia.

It’s time to re-mobilize – these kids and moms need us to fight for them.

Written by Sarah Corstange, AILA Member and Dilley Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to AILA’s Dilley 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 at Artesia and elsewhere 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.


From Leave It to Beaver to Modern Family

Author: on 03/02/2015


shutterstock_152193854The days when one spouse remained at home and the other went to work aren’t the norm any longer in our society.  Although there may still be some households where only one spouse works outside the home, in many cases having two working spouses is one of the requirements of the economic and societal reality within which we now live.

While the Cleavers exemplified the idealized middle-class suburban family of the mid-20th century, times have changed, and now Modern Family brings us the experiences of diverse family units.

Decades of changes within our own culture and values have led to the recognition of both spouses’ talents outside the home.  The traditional roles of domestic spouses and working spouses are no longer rigid models in a family and with two incomes the overall financial stability and security of many family units has improved.

Our country’s H-1B visa program however, lagged behind these realities until last week when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) finally announced a visa rule revision that will allow spouses of some highly skilled immigrants to apply to work in the United States.  This rule recognizes the contributions spouses of foreign workers can also bring to our society and economy.

USCIS director Leon Rodriguez noted that “[spouses] are, in many cases, in their own right highly skilled workers,” and that “many families struggled financially when a spouse couldn’t work, and in some cases returned to their country.”

More importantly this rule revision will have a tremendous effect on immigrant women because a large number of the H-1B spouses are, in fact, women.  Women who may have completed advanced degrees in their home country and are well qualified to hold jobs in their own professions, but who until now have been barred from doing so. They have had to make a choice, either to pursue their own career or focus entirely on their spouse’s while he was employed on an H-1B visa.  The Administration’s willingness to recognize these inequities for immigrant women living in our society and the agency’s action in revising this arcane rule is another step forward in remedying the complex and outdated rules in our current immigration system.

The announcement and the impact the revision of the rule will have on many foreign workers and their families are welcomed, but this is only a limited remedy.  It is important to note that the new authorization doesn’t apply to the spouses of all H-1B visa holders. The regulations only cover those whose H-1B partners are seeking permanent legal residency and for whom the agency has already approved an employer petition to start the process.

Our immigration system remains a product of the past century and hinders our country’s ability to remain competitive in this global economy.  The efforts by this Administration to bring relief to companies seeking to keep or hire talent should be a catalyst for Congress to get to work on further reform of our immigration laws.

Competitiveness increases profits and strengthens our economy.  Research shows that immigrants complement American workers.   It is time to leave the Cleavers to our history and modernize our immigration laws to chart the economic future of our nation and the financial stability of our families.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Second Vice President


It’s Our Security, Stupid

Author: on 02/27/2015


shutterstock_126785846I find myself in the unusual position today of agreeing with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) in his NY Daily News Op-Ed Wednesday (Guest column: Brooklyn terror suspects show it’s insane to not approve money for Homeland Security ) where he argues that security of the United States is too important and that funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is essential to protect our country.  He is right.  As we sit back and watch the latest drama unfold on Capitol Hill, one cannot but wonder why funding our national security would ever become a political issue.  Clearly it is in our nation’s best interest to fund the agency which is responsible for protecting the homeland from terrorist attack.   Now more than ever Congress should recognize that terrorism can happen in the West and is being called upon by radical leaders abroad.  All they need to do is look at our friends in France, Holland and Canada to see recent examples of attacks on innocent civilians and local police.  Moreover, recently the terrorist group Al Shabaab called for an attack on American civilians in shopping malls such as the Mall of America.  Rep. King points out the need to fund DHS based on the three individuals who were arrested recently in New York City who planned to travel to Syria to fight with ISIL or attack American civilians in New York if they could not reach Syria.  Rep. King is properly putting the people of New York and America ahead of a political agenda.

Regardless of one’s position on the legality of President Obama’s Executive Action memos or immigration in general, we should all be able to agree as Americans that the safety and protection of the people of the United States is a priority regardless of political party.  As I write this, Congress is on a path to fund DHS for only three weeks.  It is unfortunate that members of Congress continue to gamble with national security and our lives to advance individual political gain.  We can only sit back and grit our teeth as the critical votes start to line up before a dysfunctional Congress that is putting party politics before American lives and wellbeing.

Rep. King correctly notes that “you don’t have to be a genius to carry out a terrorist attack.”  You also don’t have to be a genius to understand that national security and the safety of America is more important than petty partisan politics.  Rep. King gets it. Unfortunately, it seems there are not enough members of Congress who want to stand up and represent the American people rather than their individual parties and anti-immigration politics.  We can only hope their selfish gamble doesn’t cost American lives.

Written by Matthew Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee


The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Author: on 02/24/2015


shutterstock_250501696Or (Thank You Sean Penn for Starting the Immigration Discussion at the Oscars)

I love film.  I love the Oscars.  To me, the Oscars, unlike the other award shows, represent the best of all aspects of the highly competitive, brilliant, and inspiring film industry.  As an immigration lawyer with an artistic client base, I am always interested to see nominees from around the world coming together in Los Angeles to celebrate the universal brilliance of film at the Academy Awards.  This year in the Dolby Theatre we again heard the talented winners accept their Oscar statues with many accents for their work on films written, produced, filmed, edited, and distributed in the U.S. and internationally.  We saw dual nationals, Julianne Moore (U.S./U.K.) win best actress for the New York based Still Alice, Mathilde Bonnefoy (France/U.S.), for best documentary, Citizenfour, Canadian Craig Mann and Brit Ben Wilkins accept the award for sound mixing for the New York based Whiplash and the international team of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with winners from Italy, France, and the U.K. garnering artistic awards in costume design, original score, and hair and makeup.

Unique this year, however, was the truly international compilation of the all American story of Birdman:  Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which was awarded best picture, cinematography, directing and original screenplay.  Birdman is all American in that its subject is the U.S. entertainment industry, recognized the world over as “Broadway” for the best of theatre and “Hollywood” for film, based on the short story by American treasure, Raymond Carver and shot entirely in New York City.  The Birdman team, including an Argentine writer, Mexican director, producer and cinematographer and British actors, along with their American colleagues, created the best film of the year as judged by their peers.  This achievement is in itself the American dream.  As Alejandro González Iñárritu, multiple Oscar winner for Birdman, so elegantly stated:

“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans…the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and the respect of the ones who came before and (built) this incredible immigrant nation.” (Associated Press)

Yes, immigrants did build this country; they also built our entertainment industry, seen as the best, or at least the most influential, in the world.  Indeed, many of our most legendary directors including Frances Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, Robert Zemeckis, and John Houston are sons or grandsons of the immigrants of the early 20th century – those huddled masses who in their own time fought discrimination, marginalization and language barriers, but who, unlike today’s immigrants were welcomed by laws which enabled their integration into the U.S.   The current state of our immigration laws, with the unreasonable barriers and limitations on work visas and green cards, the limitations for those who enter without inspection and the crippling three and ten year bars is holding back those who come to this country in search of the American dream and depriving their children of the same opportunities afforded to the children of the immigrants of the early 20th century.  I don’t know how Alejandro González Iñárritu came to the U.S. or if he has a green card, as possibly inappropriately (or even ignorantly) stated by Best Picture presenter, Sean Penn, but he is clearly extraordinary, and accordingly would most likely be eligible for a work visa or green card under our current immigration laws.

While welcoming the best and brightest can be beneficial to the U.S., let’s not forget all those who came before us who were not extraordinary in their fields – those hard working young men and women seeking a better life; those whose children and grandchildren grew up to be legends of the film industry.  A brilliant director/screenwriter/ film producer/composer/immigrant has challenged us to look at the American dream in both his Academy award winning film and his acceptance speech; he has challenged lawmakers to enact laws that treat immigrants with dignity and respect worthy of this incredible nation.

I urge Congress to take up this challenge, to educate themselves about these important issues instead of repeating rhetoric aimed at creating more confusion and condemnation rather than educated debate and effective change. Our country has prospered in large part because of the contribution of immigrants and their children – those who had the next big great idea – whether it be in the arts, business, economics, finance, law or any other field. That is inspiring to me, just like the Oscars.

 Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA National Treasurer


One Week, Two Injunctions

Author: on 02/24/2015


shutterstock_141143860What a week.

Last week began with a preliminary injunction temporarily preventing President Obama from implementing his executive action plan to protect millions of immigrant families from deportation.  The week ended with a preliminary injunction temporarily preventing the Obama administration from continuing its policy of prolonged detention of refugee women and children along our southern border.  One injunction to stop the Obama administration from helping immigrant families; the other to prevent the administration from continuing to harm them.

On Monday, February 16, 2015, the week began with an order by Judge Andrew Hanen of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in State of Texas, et. al. v. United States. In that case, Judge Hanen issued a preliminary injunction temporarily preventing the implementation of the Obama administration’s expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens and Residents (DAPA) programs.  These programs were announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014, in a speech detailing a multitude of actions that the administration would take on immigration.  The President stated that his administration would prioritize immigration enforcement for criminal aliens and threats to national security and permit undocumented individuals who are not enforcement priorities  to “come out of the shadows,” apply for deferred action and receive temporary work authorization.

“Felons not families. Criminals not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kid.” said the President to the nation on November 20, 2014.   And indeed, the DAPA and expanded DACA programs provide a much needed respite for the millions of undocumented families who have resided in our country, worked in our country, raised their children in our country for many years.

The preliminary injunction issued by Judge Hanen is a temporary blow to the millions of parents U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children who finally felt a glimmer of hope about their ability to keep their families together.

Most legal experts agree that as the Chief Executive, President Obama is authorized to set priorities for immigration enforcement and that the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Code of Federal Regulations authorize the Attorney General to grant employment authorization for individuals who have received deferred action. In light of the sound legal basis for the DAPA and DACA programs, the temporary injunction is likely to be lifted in the future. In fact, in an effort to keep these programs moving, the Obama administration announced that it would file a request for a stay of the preliminary injunction this week.

I applaud our President for using his constitutionally granted authority to provide some protection to the hardworking families that have resided in the United States for years, worked hard, contributed to the economy and communities. True to his word, the President is taking steps to allow hard working immigrant families to come out of the shadows and live without fear.

But while his soaring speech brought proud tears to my eyes on November 20, 2014, because I knew the positive impact these programs would bring to so many immigrant families, it also brought back the memory of the kids and moms detained for weeks and months on end by this same president. I remembered the women and children who fled for their lives and asked for the protection of the United States, whom I helped through the Artesia Pro Bono Project. To them, his words were nothing more than a slap in the face.

Since June of 2014, the administration has been detaining the most vulnerable– women and children refugees – in centers near our southern border without bond.  The Obama administration argues that these families pose a threat to national security.  The administration argues that these families should not be released on bond to pursue asylum protection in the United States.  The administration pushes them through immigration removal proceedings with unprecedented speed and limited access to legal counsel.

This brings us to the second preliminary injunction of the week – issued in RILR v. Johnson on Friday February 20, 2015 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  In that case, Judge James Boasberg enjoined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from continuing its shameful policy of jailing refugee women and refugee children from Central America at our southern border to deter others.

The government argues that the detention of these women and children is necessary to deter a mass influx of future immigrants that would threaten national security.  In RILR v. Johnson, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of the mothers and children who have fled extreme violence in their home countries.  The women and children on behalf of whom the suit was filed fled horrific violence, death threats, rape or persecution in their home countries before fleeing to the United States.  These women and children established a “credible fear” of harm in their home countries, meaning that there is a “significant possibility” that they will establish eligibility for asylum protection in the United States.

Despite these facts, the DHS continues to argue that the families must be detained in order to prevent others like them from seeking protection in the United States.  In issuing the preliminary injunction Judge Boasberg stated that the “incantation of the magic word ‘national security’ without further substantiation is simply not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty.”

Judge Boasberg’s order means that these refugee families are entitled to individualized bond determinations, which involve questions about whether they pose a danger to the community or a flight risk that requires their detention.  Judge Boasberg’s order means that these families can no longer be held without bond or with an unreasonably high bond simply to try to prevent others from coming to the United States in the future.

The DHS has not yet indicated whether it will challenge the preliminary injunction.

The week was a rollercoaster. At the start, I found myself deeply disappointed by a judge’s decision. By the end of the week, I was thrilled that another had seen the specious arguments of DHS for what they were – excuses to jail families in an unjust and inhumane manner. Judge Boasberg’s decision means that the government can no longer do so without repercussion.

It was a heck of a week – let’s see what happens next.

Written by Jennifer Casey, AILA Member and Artesia Pro Bono Project Volunteer