Baby Steps Toward Transparency

Author: on 09/23/2016


shutterstock_8491309Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) took another small step toward transparency – issuing a Request for Quote (RFQ) for 108 body-worn cameras and 12 vehicle-mounted cameras. It probably seems strange to get even a little bit excited about the announcement of a bureaucratic process, but in the case of CBP transparency, every step, even baby steps, are important after years of push-back and blockades in the fight for body-worn cameras. Despite the ever-growing evidence that body-worn cameras benefit all parties, CBP has failed to implement the use of these cameras throughout the field.

In a statement, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said, “CBP is committed to expanding the use of cameras to increase transparency, accountability, and officer and agent safety. The body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras from this purchase will be tested by agents and officers in the field. What we learn from this initial deployment to several operational environments will help CBP refine requirements that will lead to a larger procurement in the near future.”

Last November, CBP announced its intention to conduct more testing and evaluation rather than actually implement a program to employ the use of body-worn cameras. As I said back in November, it is beyond belief that, given all that we know about the power of video to shine a light on the actions of law enforcement agents and officers, as well as those who are involved in encounters with agents and officers, CBP is still dragging its heels on this initiative. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, CBP should lead the way toward transparency and set the standard, rather than keep things hidden away in the desert, bushes, canyons, and riverbanks.

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Opening Minds and Hearts in the Immigration Debate

Author: on 09/21/2016


shutterstock_126507572There are very few issues facing our country today that are more polarizing than immigration. From the White House to your parents’ house, Wall Street to Main Street, the classroom to the dining room, discussions about immigration have sharply divided parties—and touched a collective nerve. The current vitriol espousing fear and scapegoating has made the immigration debate not just a theoretical or intellectual one, but a personal one. “They’re stealing our jobs!” “They’re killing our children!” “They don’t pay taxes!

Facts and figures, studies and statistics, and plain common sense abound to debunk most of the common myths and rhetoric, yet some people still cling to their anti-immigrant sentiments. Some of it is based on benign ignorance, some of it driven by emotion, others by personal experiences and biases.

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Arizona: A Lesson in Tolerance

Author: on 09/20/2016


shutterstock_272772044Arizona…you never learn, do you?

In 1987, I was living in Tucson. I was in 7th grade and the state of Arizona provided me with a crash course in racism, the civil rights movement and very poor decision-making. Former Governor Evan Mecham infamously rescinded an executive order by his predecessor, Governor Bruce Babbitt, which had made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid-state holiday. In 1990, the citizens of the state then voted down a proposition that would have created a paid-state holiday. After significant humiliation and economic damage to the state, including the NFL moving the 1993 Super Bowl location out of Phoenix, the voters finally approved the holiday in 1992.

Even though the citizens ultimately made the right choice, the consequences of this struggle lingered. In the ensuing decade, when I lived in New York, people would call Arizona the “racist” state or associate our state with the MLK Jr. Day controversy. To not properly honor a civil rights hero was an embarrassment to Arizona and to those who believe in progress and tolerance.

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Solicitor General Apologizes to the Supreme Court, Again

Author: on 09/15/2016


shutterstock_246417730The moral of this blog post is two-fold. First, stranger things have happened, and second, do not believe everything someone tells you because just saying it does not make it so.

On August 26, 2016, Acting Solicitor General Ian Heath Gershengorn penned a letter to the Honorable Clerk of the Supreme Court Scott S. Harris apologizing for a Department of Justice (DOJ) error committed fourteen years ago. That’s right. In 2002, Mr. Gershengorn’s predecessor told the Supreme Court in Demore v. Kim, that mandatory detention under 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c) was constitutional because the average length of detention when a case was appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) was on average only 233 days. According to DOJ’s apology, however, the statistics provided by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which DOJ had submitted to the court, omitted 15,000 cases, and in fact, appealed cases generally take an average of 382 days. This also resulted in an underestimate of the actual number of cases appealed. Statistics were fudged based on EOIR’s definition of “completion,” which did not take into account, for example, a change of venue. The statistics, by the way, relate back to the year 2001.

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Why Is Texas Making the Roads Less Safe?

Author: on 09/13/2016


shutterstock_265623575We all want to feel safer. There are dozens of regulations in place to increase our safety on a day-to-day basis. We require people to have health insurance, car insurance, to buckle their seatbelts, strap children into car seats, keep job sites safe, make sure food is labeled clearly, restrict  prescription medications, the list goes on. The reasoning behind nearly every law or regulation we have could, in some way, be tied to public safety. And if it’s not safety? It’s often economics. Policies that are good for the economy eventually benefit individual citizens’ well-being. And when the economy is doing well and citizens are doing well, guess what? We feel safer. It’s cyclical, you see?

So, why doesn’t the concern for public safety extend to the roads and highways of Texas, where we are all statistically far more likely to suffer bodily harm or death than in almost any other situation we face on a daily basis? Though hundreds of regulations are designed to make our roads safer, others inexplicably weaken these safety measures. For example, in 2008, the Texas Department of Public Safety began requiring applicants to show proof of their legal status in the U.S. in order to obtain a driver’s license. That’s right, our government made a decision to refuse driver’s licenses to people who couldn’t produce evidence of their legal status.

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When Pictures Are Worth More than a Thousand Words

Author: on 09/12/2016


vtcc000019a_1I had heard stories about Border Patrol’s mistreatment of immigrants. When I volunteered in Artesia, New Mexico, and Dilley, Texas, the mothers and children there told me what a horrible experience they’d had in Border Patrol custody. Over the years, I’d become familiar with the term hieleras, or iceboxes, shorthand for the freezing cold and filthy Border Patrol facilities, in addition to the perreras, or dog pounds.

But now, thanks to a lawsuit filed on behalf of immigrants by the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others, the entire nation is seeing for themselves the horrors that have long-been described. Adults and children held in extremely close quarters with only a thin mylar blanket for cover. Diapers being changed on top of the same unsanitary blanket that covered a mother and her child for hours. No showers. No privacy. And empty rooms nearby that could have alleviated the crowded conditions.

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Avoiding Potential Pitfalls in the Global Immigration Context

Author: on 09/09/2016


shutterstock_288120626Immigration lawyers regularly see the damage “notarios” can inflict on innocent clients who don’t realize they are not dealing with a qualified lawyer or don’t understand why it’s important to use a lawyer competent in immigration law. Many of us have worked hard to educate the public on the dangers presented by those engaged in the Unauthorized Practice of Law and we have encouraged our law enforcement agencies to target the worst actors.

There are also many handling U.S. immigration matters overseas who are off the radar of U.S. authorities. They may be equally as unqualified as the notarios operating within the U.S. and the potential harm they cause is just as serious.

No matter how much we know about the law, and how much we know about immigration, the fact remains that with some exceptions, AILA members are experts in American immigration law. Notwithstanding our desire to help a longstanding client, or offer a few words of advice on a “simple” matter, American immigration lawyers should be extremely cautious about accepting outbound immigration matters.

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Bring Hope Back to Berks

Author: on 09/07/2016


shutterstock_137307233History is full of places designed to hide people. People like Alexandre Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask, imprisoned on an island in the Mediterranean with his identity concealed.  Refugees subject to inhumane treatment by the Australian government on the island of Nauru. And, in the United States, for a long time it seemed that the Berks County Residential Center (or, as advocates and lawyers in the family detention world call it, “Berks”) would be that place. When historians look back on this time in the United States political past, when they examine the justifications and repercussions of jailing refugee parents and children, Berks felt destined to play that role.

Until, that is, August 8th 2016, when 26 extraordinarily brave mothers began protesting their detention by going on a hunger strike. Seventeen of them are also party to a lawsuit challenging the American government’s almost careless treatment of their refugee claims. Those 17 remain in custody, victims of intensifying government retaliation. On September 1, after a seven-day fast meant to regain strength and fight back against threats of having their children taken away, they re-started their strike, joined by five new mothers.

These mothers are taking the most desperate act they can take –one usually reserved for political prisoners in countries like Iran or North Korea – and I believe we should listen.

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What is Donald Trump’s Position on Immigration?

Author: on 08/31/2016


shutterstock_264609119Why do we ask?  And why particularly of Donald Trump and not Hillary Clinton?  While the devil is always in the details, it is clear that Secretary Clinton has a more favorable view of immigration and has laid out a fairly clear strategy for how she would reform the current system.

But the question of what Mr. Trump would prioritize on immigration, should he be elected to hold the highest office in our nation, remains unclear.  First he called for massive, yet “humane” and “nice” deportation of the estimated 11+ million undocumented individuals in this country.  He has also repeatedly reaffirmed that a wall must be built along the southern border.  He has noted that he wants people (who are deported) to come back legally because “they want to be legalized.” The candidate has also said that in the wall, there will be a “tremendous beautiful wide open door.” (Donald Trump on mass deportation).

Recently however, reports have Mr. Trump possibly “softening” his stance on immigration noting that “to take a person who has been here for 15-20 years and to throw them out is a very, very hard thing.”  The outline of a plan appears to have similarities to proposals made by former presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who Mr. Trump previously criticized as “weak on immigration.” Yet there does not yet seem to be any clear and definitive proposals of what his immigration policy would look like in actuality.

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Taking that Final Step Toward Citizenship

Author: on 08/30/2016


shutterstock_323503904Before he was president, Eisenhower was a general. What war was he in? What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803? What stops one branch of the U.S. government from becoming too powerful? How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have?

These four questions seem innocuous but they can strike fear into the hearts of thousands. I’m not talking about high schoolers or even college students. These questions are just a few of the 100 possible questions an immigration examiner may ask a person who is applying for U.S. citizenship.

Before you can become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you first have to have lawful permanent residence (possess a “green card”) in the United States for several years; in most cases, five. Of the many other citizenship requirements, such as proving “good moral character” and attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, each applicant must have sufficient knowledge of U.S. history and government as well as basic written and oral comprehension of the English language.

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