Author Archive

Business Community: Speak Up on DACA!

shutterstock_188897156What if someone told you that by the stroke of a presidential pen, the United States was set to lose at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product over the course of a decade?  Would that be a good policy, or even a prudent economic decision? According to a recent study from the Center for American Progress, that’s how much it would cost if Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was eliminated.

Nearly 750,000 people have been granted DACA by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS). DACA has provided many with opportunities that were not available before, including enriching their minds in college, finding gainful employment and providing financially for their families, and paying taxes. DACA has not only been a boon for individuals and their communities, but also for businesses. Since the election, I have personally spoken to several business owners that do not want to see the end of this program and would suffer if they had to lay off critical employees.

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Offering the Community Your Expertise Post-Election

shutterstock_522382048There is fear in our communities. In the days following the presidential election, I heard from a lot of people who want to help, but aren’t sure exactly how. Though there are many ways to get involved, I want to offer an example of how a fellow AILA member and I volunteered a couple of weekends ago. Perhaps it will serve as a road map for others to follow.

Two Sundays ago, AILA member Brad Thomson and I spoke at a large community gathering at the St. Mary’s Student Parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The event was organized by the fantastic folks at Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) and was supported by a number of other community organizations.

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Rage Against the Extreme

shutterstock_138193775Remember the days when reasonable people could sit down and rationally discuss opposing views on immigration policy or other issues? The dividing line tended to fall along things like, “How workable is E-verify?” or “What is a crime involving moral turpitude?” or “What is a reasonable wage floor for H-1B visas?” Debate might get animated, and you might end up agreeing to disagree, but at least people tended to avoid unabashedly racist language .

The discourse has changed. Within the past few months, we have heard the now-president-elect denigrate immigrants, insult prisoners of war, and offend an entire faith in the broadest strokes. Within the past week, we have seen the Trump transition team offer prominent positions to people who have referred to Muslims as a cancer, or who are associated with groups that freely throw around terms like “renegade Jew” and “turban toppers.” And just in the past few days, on a major network, we tuned in to hear a prominent Trump fundraiser flippantly refer to the internment of Japanese Americans as precedent for a proposed Muslim registry.

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The World is Watching

shutterstock_81287065By now, it is no longer a surprise to learn that many immigration lawyers, and the clients they serve, live in certain “hostile jurisdictions,” where it is almost impossible to win an asylum case no matter the facts. In places like Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, people seeking asylum, and the attorneys fighting for them, know they are likely going to lose no matter how strong the case, or how real the fear. Going into this kind of battle expecting to lose takes a special type of courage, and a lot of support, because as a lawyer, you know that no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how much you think the law is on your side, the deck is still stacked against you.

But the deck shouldn’t be stacked against anyone because immigration law in the United States is, after all, federal law, and as such should be applied uniformly, from California to Georgia and from New York to Florida. An asylum claim presented in a court in California should be evaluated under the same law and have the same chances of approval as an asylum claim in Georgia or North Carolina. But AILA members know that this is simply not the case. We know that, no matter the facts, the claim of an asylum seeker in a hostile jurisdiction like Georgia or North Carolina is not evaluated under the same standards as asylum seekers in the rest of the United States.

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Where Does Family Detention Stand Now?

shutterstock_315356267During the contentious presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton’s immigration platform included a promise to end the detention of immigrant families, while President-elect Donald Trump has never specifically addressed the issue of family detention at all. Instead, Trump’s website broadly states that anyone who “illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country.” And given Trump’s other pronouncements about immigration—including his vows to ban the admission of Muslims, deport millions, repeal DACA, and build a wall along our southern border—it seems safe to assume that family detention will not only continue but could potentially expand in the Trump Administration. So with this in mind, allow me to share just a few of the stories I have heard from detained women about why they made the difficult choice to flee to the United States with their children. I know I’m preaching to the choir in this forum, but we must remember that in addition to the big-picture reasons why family detention is bad policy, the personal stories of women and babies in jail make it crystal clear how wrong it is.

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American Parents Overseas Should be Treated Equally

shutterstock_334793393The Supreme Court on November 9, 2016, will hear arguments in Lynch v. Morales-Santana, a case in which AILA submitted an Amicus Brief, along with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.  The case, which will address and better define how citizenship passes to children born to Americans overseas, has the potential to affect numerous children by eliminating current distinctions based on the biological sex of an unwed U.S. citizen parent.

In Morales-Santana, the Second Circuit ruled that the petitioner, who was born out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen father and a non-U.S. citizen mother, should not have been treated differently as to the status of his citizenship under the equal-protection clause of the Fifth Amendment, reversing a lower court ruling.  If the Supreme Court upholds the Second Circuit’s decision, the Court will create equality under the law for children born to an unwed U.S. citizen parent, regardless of the parent’s gender.

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Don’t Cry, Mommy

shutterstock_337787162After going through security, placing my phone in the locker outside the facility, and relinquishing my driver’s license in exchange for a one-day entry badge, I entered the trailer excited and anxious. As a business immigration attorney, though I was outside my comfort zone, I was ready for a new and meaningful experience.

Day one was a blur as I met with as many women as possible over the next ten hours to prepare them for their credible fear interviews. The women shared grueling stories of gang threats and domestic violence. Throughout the day, I learned a lot and became more comfortable with the process. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I looked between my colleague who was translating and the women with empathy. I regretted not being able to communicate verbally. I saw tears in the women’s eyes as they communicated with my Spanish-speaking colleague and wondered if it was normal to feel somewhat disconnected from the clearly emotional experience.

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Profiting Off Trauma

shutterstock_373634620Last year, I spent a week as a volunteer attorney with the CARA Project at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Although the government calls it a “residential center,” it is, of course, a prison that detains thousands of women and children who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. On my first day at the prison, I found many things jarring – the baby strollers lined up in a row, the infants crying in their mothers’ arms, the children playing in what is essentially a prison yard surrounded by a high metal fence. But what was perhaps most shocking to me was what is prominently displayed when you first walk through the front door: a whiteboard noting CCA’s closing stock price from the previous day.

CCA is the largest for-profit prison company in the United States. The prison at Dilley reminds all visitors in that first instant that incarcerating women and children here is a business that is traded on an international market: CCA profits substantially from detaining vulnerable asylum seekers, and lobbies Congress so that it can detain more families and make more money. It is a vicious and inhumane cycle.

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California’s TRUTH Act – Due Process for Immigrants Held in Local Jails

shutterstock_376637839On September 28, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the TRUTH Act  which protects immigrant communities against harsh immigration enforcement practices. With this law, California becomes the first state to require immigrants be told of their right to an attorney before being interviewed by federal immigration authorities while in custody. The TRUTH Act responds to the growing concern that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP) and similar initiatives are replicating the failures of the former Secure Communities initiative—a program that was ultimately condemned after separating tens of thousands of families across the state of California and damaging public safety.

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Hostile Jurisdictions

shutterstock_372661681U.S. immigration lawyers, members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), practice in every state in the union and other countries besides. We fight for clients no matter where they are, to the best of our abilities. However, we are currently wrestling with an elephant of a problem – hostile immigration court jurisdictions – best illustrated by the fact that the Atlanta immigration court consistently produces grant rates of relief far lower than the national average.  When you know that your client has virtually no chance of obtaining relief in your city and also know that if they were simply located in a different city they would have a better than two-thirds chance of relief, it can be disheartening, to say the least. Thus, there is an understandable reluctance among many attorneys to practice removal defense in Atlanta, one of the worst of our nation’s “hostile jurisdictions,” where no amount of time and effort can overcome a deck stacked firmly against the defense.

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