Author Archive

Answering Questions from the Community

shutterstock_171841433Monday night, the Princeton, New Jersey Human Services Commission hosted a program addressing President Obama’s Executive Order on DACA and DAPA.  The Princeton community has been out in front building bridges with immigrants that live in the municipality.

The DACA/DAPA event was the most recent in a series of town programs designed to reach out to Princeton immigrants.  Two years ago, the community’s Police Department partnered with the Human Services Commission to build a better understanding within the police force of concerns in the immigrant community about interacting with local law enforcement officials.  The Princeton Police Department laid out policy guidelines limiting local law enforcement participation in immigration enforcement activity.  The effort to deputize local police as immigration enforcement officers has been long-recognized in our community as a stumbling block to public safety and building trust with immigrants.

The work of Princeton’s Police Department and Human Services Commission have advanced the goals of community policing activity meant to give immigrants the confidence to contact and interact with the police, particularly if they are victims or witness of crimes.   The members of Princeton’s immigrant community who turned out for Monday night’s program learned more about the federal court’s injunction in Texas of extended DACA and DAPA.  Joining me on the panel were Tatiana Durbak, John Leschak and Aleksandra Gontaryuk.

This kind of outreach can make a real difference in the community. Immigration law is confusing and complicated for attorneys, let alone the public. Yes, it means giving up a few hours of your time to preparation and the appearance itself, but it opens up communication and allows for a forum where people feel safe asking questions. I encourage other AILA chapters to reach out to local organizations and municipal commissions to find similar opportunities and touch base with AILA National for the latest news and information on the issue you’re covering.

Written by Ryan Stark Lilienthal, Advocacy Liaison, AILA New Jersey Chapter

Understanding the Mindset

shutterstock_255315073 2On May 5 and 6, 2015, Ryan Hutton and Rafael Henry from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Headquarters invited a group of AILA members to attend a southern border tour in Texas. On the first day, we visited the land border crossing at the Hidalgo Port of Entry, and on the second day we visited the Brownsville Port of Entry, which includes land, rail and sea crossings. The personnel at both ports were extremely welcoming and spent several hours demonstrating the use of their inspection procedures and equipment. We witnessed not only immigration inspections but also screenings for contraband, Customs violations, and agricultural pests.

As we walked through the ports, we were able to speak with various specialists. For example, an X-ray scanner showed us images of truck cargo and pointed out instances in which drugs were concealed within various compartments of vehicles. (These were about as easy for the untrained eye to spot as babies’ organs on an ultrasound image: not very). We also witnessed the wanton destruction of several luscious mangoes by a skilled agricultural inspector checking for insect larvae. He told us he had chopped up so many mangoes in his career that he can no longer eat them (a travesty).

As the tours progressed, a theme began to emerge. Regardless of which type of specialist we spoke to, each one expressed an awareness that the vast majority of travelers and/or cargo screened were compliant with federal regulations for admission. Each specialist was trained to look for the proverbial needle in the haystack—the one traveler (or poor, sweet mango) that was not compliant. As attorneys who deal exclusively with the immigration piece of border issues, it is helpful to be aware of this pervasive mindset. Inspectors at the border have a mental construct of a “good” case or applicant and when questioning a traveler, they are looking for something out of the ordinary, something that doesn’t sit right, doesn’t fit the mold, seems to be concealing something.

A twin theme was a layered approach to screening. Travelers and cargo are first given a cursory inspection at the primary inspection booth. Officers typically clear each vehicle in under 1 minute. Their job is to quickly clear travelers who do not raise any red flags while referring questionable vehicles or individuals to secondary inspection. All of the screening equipment reflects this two tiered approach. For example, each officer at primary inspection wears a small device on his belt that detects radiation. These devices will go off in the vicinity of any radioactive material, but they cannot detect which radioactive isotope set off the alarm. That is not the role at primary: they just say “whoop-whoop-whoop- PROBLEM!” and send the person inside. Then inside, CBP has more specialized equipment that is capable of determining the exact radioactive isotope and whether it is the result of medical imaging or a nuclear weapon. Again, there is a parallel in this procedure to the screening of applicants for immigration benefits. That is, officers at primary inspection are trained to ask cursory questions to determine whether someone needs to spend more time with an officer. If someone is coming in to buy groceries, and there are no red flags, they likely will be admitted very quickly. But anyone who needs an I-94 will be sent to secondary, as will anyone who cannot immediately be cleared.

It is extremely helpful to us as attorneys to understand this law enforcement mindset, and the way officers are trained to issue spot. It helps us to better prepare our clients for the inspection process and to understand how to present themselves at the port of entry when seeking immigration benefits. It is also beneficial to understand how this process fits within CBP’s wider law enforcement mission.

Written by Danielle Rizzo, Vice Chair, AILA CBP Liaison Committee

Approaching Liberty

shutterstock_217215274It was some months ago, which seems like yesterday, that volunteers representing the detained children and women in Artesia, New Mexico, were confronted with immigration judges in Arlington, Virgina who said no.

There were hearings before one Immigration Judge who would go on and on and on about national security as if the breast-feeding infant appearing on the video screen in front of him was something akin to a nuclear warhead. There was another Immigration Judge who overruled reasonable objections, ignoring ordinary rules of law, and setting aside common sense to decide that $20,000 (his average amount of bond held steady around $17,000) was required to protect the nation from the toddler and his young mother facing him.  Not to mention the Immigration Judge who stormed out of court because a volunteer attorney raised a few questions. Or even the Immigration Judge who in one case imposed a high bond on an indigenous Guatemalan client from a rural village because she didn’t show awareness of American political figures.

That was then. Then it became this: the court docket moved to the Denver court. Volunteers wept when more reasonable bonds were issued. The hearings were grueling affairs without any real need for it. The bond amounts dropped but were stuck above the national average and were not truly matching the facts. It was progress of sorts. Our aim though was always liberty without unnecessary strings.

Artesia closed and Dilley opened; eventually this month we saw the docket shift from Denver to Miami. A new court, a new set of judges, a new set of opportunities to argue these cases on the facts. Now, this week we approach liberty – the concept embodied in the Fifth Amendment that the Obama Administration, through its components at the Department of Homeland Security, have so routinely ignored. In court this week, volunteer attorney Elora Mukherjee asked for conditional parole from the Immigration Judge. The Immigration Judge said, well, I’ve never been asked for that before and I see that the law says I can, and the facts suggest that it is correct.  And so it was. Conditional parole. Leaving detention because detention was unnecessary and so was posting a bond. Lovely. The Fifth Amendment and liberty together again.

Written by Stephen Manning, AILA Member and CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member 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.

Game Changer

Dushutterstock_147037244ring a recent campaign event in Nevada, Hillary Clinton blindsided the 2016 Presidential contestants by stating her unequivocal support for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and a clear path to citizenship for the undocumented migrants in the U.S. She also stated the obvious – that when immigration restrictionists talk about legal status “that is code for second-class status.”

A week later – Hillary’s husband, Bill, followed suit during an appearance on Univision and stated his own support for a path to citizenship and referred to the policy of “inclusive governance” as “not rocket science.”

Indeed – as a nation of immigrants – we should encourage and celebrate the possibility of having more citizens.  New blood not only brings innovation, but also supports our industries, and enriches our culture.  Even the idea of long-term or permanent non-citizens is an insult to our Founding Fathers who released this country from the clutched fists of a British government which sanctioned the idea of  having “Subjects” as opposed to free Citizens.

To be sure, I am not a Clinton cheerleader.  Though I voted for Bill Clinton, I am also sober to the many mistakes made under his watch: NAFTA, DOMA, DADT, and of course IIRAIRA, to name a few.  However, I am excited to hear Hillary Clinton speak about CIR because we need to have this discussion once again.

As we all know, in 2013 a reform oriented bipartisan immigration bill passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 68-32.  Though not perfect, we had a bill we could work with.  Unfortunately, it was never taken up by the House and succumbed to an agonizingly slow death by expiration date when the new congressional session began.

The national conversation then turned to border security, only the Southern border of course, and also to the executive actions taken by President Obama on immigration policy.  The actual way forward, the way to solve the immigration problem, unfortunately got lost in all this noise and useless bravado.

I am not naive.  I understand that to pass any bill, we need both a President and a Congress who are willing to work together.  But I also understand that we live in a democracy where according to a May 2015 CBS/NYT poll, 57% of Americans want the undocumented migrants in this country to be able to apply for citizenship while only 29% want them to leave. We also have the 2016 elections coming up – a chance to vote for a whole new set of Representatives in Congress and a new president in the White House.

That is why I was excited to hear Hillary Clinton bring up CIR.  I am equally ecstatic that Bill Clinton, the very person whose signature is on the dreaded IIRAIRA, is also keeping this discussion alive.  People need to see the obvious: that it is morally reprehensible and financially impossible to remove the entire undocumented community and torpedo the unity of countless families.  Moreover, our security as a nation demands a full accounting of everyone residing within our borders.  It is also a fool’s errand to keep talking about baby steps on immigration reform without acknowledging that the final product cannot be anything short of a path to full U.S. citizenship for those who have already contributed in countless ways to our prosperity.

I hope that the Clintons’ remarks will end the national inaction on immigration and reboot the necessary conversation on CIR.  The restrictionists have, for far too long, drawn the battle lines on this issue.  I am glad to see the reformists reclaim the debate at the onset of our upcoming electoral process.  As an immigrant who is an immigration attorney, I believe the immigration reformists along with the American people at large will be the winners at the end of this Game of Thrones.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Another Kind of Obstacle Course

Interesting pshutterstock_136036019iece by Kristina Wong in The Hill last week (Army already enlisting ‘Dreamers’ as Congress debates immigration) about 50 DACA recipients (“illegal immigrants” as the author calls them) joining the United States military. The US military has long tapped skilled people to join its ranks, whether they be citizens or not.  Our country’s military has a long history of non-citizens fighting shoulder to shoulder with American citizens from the War of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program was created, as Wong states, to “recruit people with medical training or who speak a critical language.”  In short, the MAVNI program’s purpose is to increase military readiness which is vital to the national security of the United States.  Skilled people increase this readiness and security and we should thank and applaud these young Dreamers who desire to serve our country and protect our freedom.

Instead Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) used this opportunity to denigrate these young skilled recruits while also risking our readiness and security for his political benefit by stating about the enlistment of Dreamers: “the Rules Committee has the power, and indeed the duty, to prevent such a threat to our national security.”  I believe we should be glad that Rep. Brooks was not in Congress during WW II, as political games seem more important to him than obtaining the essential skills to win a conflict and protect our country by using all of the assets this great country has to offer.

In February of 1942, as the U.S. war effort in the Pacific faced a determined enemy, one exceptionally skilled at breaking US military code and learning US military strategy, it seemed as if no code was safe.  Along came Philip Johnston and he approached the Marine Corps with an idea to recruit Navajo American Indians from a California reservation and use the Navajo language on the battlefield as code.  He was confident the enemy would never be able to break the code.  After some internal discussion, the 382nd Platoon of the US Marine Corps was born several months later.  The code was never broken and we know the result. The military tapped the skills of the Navajo, a historically underutilized and overlooked but available asset until that point in the war, and it made a significant difference.

The purpose of MAVNI, Congressman, is to protect the United States by using all assets available to our great country regardless of politics, race, religion, creed, nationality and immigration status. For someone who trumpets national security’s importance so often, why are you standing in the way?

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Segura

FullSizeRenderDriving out of the Dilley detention center last Friday, an awareness hung over me as certain and cloudy as the sky itself. I’d just spent the week volunteering with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. As we pulled onto I-35 towards San Antonio, I scanned the open road and considered that most of the time I am unafraid. I don’t mean that I’m brave or even naïve, I mean that I actually have little to fear. There is not a high likelihood of violence in my life. I have no rational reason to worry that I might be raped, robbed, or killed on the way to the airport hotel. This is not true for the women and children at the South Texas Family Residential Center, “Dilley” for short.

To volunteer at Dilley is to gain admission to one of this country’s most bizarre industries. It is a refugee camp run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a for-profit entity that specializes, in its words, in combining “public sector oversight with private sector efficiency.” The Center neighbors the Texas Department of Corrections’ Dolph Briscoe Unit, and looks more like an encampment than the whitewashed prison next door. There is a temporary feel to the place, a collection of trailers next to a vast pebbled parking lot. A sign on the security checkpoint trailer announces “Appreciation Week.” Corrections staff enjoy an ice cream social one day and a barbeque lunch another, just outside the perimeter to what CCA refers to as the detainees’ “neighborhoods.” On Friday afternoon, while merrymaking CCA employees carry backpacks of corporate swag aboard party buses, the women inside the legal trailer described the reasons they’d crossed our border seeking sanctuary.

These were the stories we heard all week. A woman whose six–year-old sat in her lap while she described a gang’s threat to kill the girl if she didn’t pay them. Another who was targeted after her daughter was raped. There were victims of domestic violence so extreme it left physical scars, ignored by the police and told to deal with their problems privately. One soft-spoken girl was so afraid of the gang members in her own family that she wouldn’t tell her lawyers what they’d done.FullSizeRender3

Before last week, I’d never looked into the face of a child marked for death or met someone whose husband had been gunned down in front of their children. Heading out into the wide-open expanse of West Texas in our rented Hyundai, I had reason to appreciate the most basic privilege this country offers: a sense of safety. Just as fear is a feeling, so too is its absence. I realized how closely my sense of security shapes my identity. I define myself by how I interact with others. I try to be someone who is helpful, who works hard, who notices, listens, and laughs. These characteristics that mean so much would be nearly irrelevant if I had to spend my energy on survival. The lack of daily fear in my life liberates me to try to be the person I’d like to be.

Of all the women I met in Dilley, one stood out as uniquely bitter and rude. Before I met her, I had heard how she’d taken her anger out on my colleagues, accusing them of not caring, of taking their own citizenship for granted. Our interpreter told me that she hadn’t even wanted to translate what this woman was saying because it was so hurtful. Her resentment radiated, and it was unpleasant to be in her orbit.

We met in the hallway before her hearing, and I did my best to make small talk in my insufficient Spanish. I could sense her rancor. As we entered the courtroom, her pigtailed daughter burst into tears, heightening the sense of doom. The outcome seemed more and more certain as the hearing went on. The immigration judge asked whether a certain event made her afraid to return to her country No, she insisted, oFullSizeRender4ver and over. It wasn’t the abuse, there wasn’t a specific threat. La violencia está en todas partes. The country is riddled with violence. I remembered something a woman earlier in the week had asked. I don’t understand, she’d said. Do we have to wait to be hurt before we apply for asylum?

In the end, the judge cut to the chase. Are you afraid to return to your country? She finally answered Sí. He found, perhaps generously, that she passed the preliminary test in the asylum process, which means that she won’t be immediately deported. As the judge explained his decision through the interpreter, the woman didn’t smile. She’d been crying while she talked to him, and her daughter kept turning to touch her mother’s face, uncertain, expectant. The woman stopped crying while the judge issued his ruling but she didn’t appear relieved. Only when we were back in the hallway did the meaning of the proceeding sink in. As the interpreter and I explained the next step in the process, the issuance of a bond that she’d have to pay to be released, she finally smiled. Her shoulders relaxed and she started nodding, slowly at first but over and over. I had the strong impression that this was the first time anything in life had ever broken her way. I wondered how much of her personality had been chiseled by fear. If she wasn’t afraid, what kind of a person would she be?

A woman isn’t a criminal for wanting to protect herself and her children. A mother fleeing violence doesn’t need a correctional facility, she needs something more basic. I learned a lot of Spanish words during my week in Dilley: miedo, temor, hielera. I learned how to ask whether an assault was sexual. I learned at least three ways to say gang. But I had to look up the word for safety, segura, because I didn’t hear it once.

Written by Jennifer Sullivan, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer

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If you want to volunteer to help mothers and children access due process 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.

Accessing Justice Requires a Guide

volunteer-652383_1280The three-year-old boy was a charmer, no question, so it was disorienting to encounter him in a detention facility in Texas. He loved being pushed in a stroller by his 19-year old mother, barely out of childhood herself. How did they get there?

D- is an indigenous woman who married very young in Guatemala. She had a decent life with her husband, that is, until the day he came home with another woman who he demanded live with them and raise their son. D- walked out, with the clothes on her back and her son in her arms, and kept walking the two hours to her mother’s house.

Her husband, in-laws, and the new “wife” followed her, threatening D- and her son with death if she did not return the boy or live with the bigamous relationship.  They threatened to find D- no matter where she went in Guatemala and kill her if she refused their demands. She gathered her son and left – seeking safety through distance and over borders.

This was not a custody dispute. As the expert witness gently explained to the court, there is no access to justice for a Quiche woman from a village. She fled because she had no choice. The immigration judge agreed, finding that she fits within the criteria of Guatemalan women unable to leave a relationship. The judge recognized that she could only leave the relationship by giving up the child and decided that being able to raise her son is a fundamental right she shouldn’t have to sacrifice.

D- and her son were granted asylum and are now living safely in the U.S. D- was incredibly fortunate; most indigenous women cannot speak any Spanish and therefore cannot communicate with lawyers trying to help, but she had learned enough along the way that she could explain her case. She also was able to act as a sort of translator for other Quiche speakers in the detention center. Now that D- is free, her Quiche-speaking peers and their children are again cut off from communicating because the detention center does not have translators for them. How can they access justice?

D- has three years of education and cannot write much beyond her name. Stuck in detention, her case was stalled, despite her passing a credible fear interview, because she wasn’t able to complete her I-589 and get it filed. What are these mothers, particularly those who cannot write in any language, expected to do in order to proceed with their meritorious claims?  I know that without the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and the assistance of an expert witness, D- would have had little to no chance of getting her day in court.

Women like D- and children like her son need help. Since our government is unwilling to let them access justice from outside the walls of a detention center where they might have better access to interpreters and attorneys, we need to go to them. That’s what the CARA Project is doing, bringing due process to those families detained by this Administration.

If you can speak Spanish, volunteer. If you can’t speak Spanish, but can bring an interpreter, volunteer. If you know someone who knows someone who speaks Quiche or another indigenous language, volunteer and convince them to as well. If you can’t come in person but can help with bond packets or other filings remotely, volunteer. Volunteer. We are their only opportunity to access justice.

Written by Kim Hunter, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member 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.

Borderland Preservation or Destruction?

shutterstock_269393675If you can look past the ugly politics in Arizona, it is truly a beautiful place to live and work. I have resided in Tucson, Arizona, for most of my life and there are times when I’ll be driving, hiking or running in the surrounding wilderness and the scenery is breathtaking. The saguaro cactus, the javelina, the bobcats and the rattlesnakes are some of the unique aspects of the Sonoran Desert ecology.  Sadly, over the past decades this stunning background has been slowly decaying with increased militarization and more border patrol vehicles, drones, surveillance and detection equipment scattering the desert panorama. If the border security bill, S. 750, becomes law—and it just passed out of the Senate Homeland Security Committee–it would further eviscerate the beauty of the millions of acres of federal land in the Yuma and Tucson Border Patrol sectors.

S. 750 (“Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act”) is a bill that was written by Arizona Senator John McCain. In spite of its name, it may very well have the opposite impact on protection and preservation of the desert. It would give 100% access for the “functioning and operational capability to conduct continuous and integrated manned or unmanned, monitoring, sensing, or surveillance” by the U.S. Border Patrol. That includes national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and other public lands. This bill permits widespread deployment of communications, routine motorized patrols and surveillance that could encroach upon the sacred tribal lands of the Tohono O’odham and the Pasqua Yaqui.

S. 750 is a bad idea and should be opposed!

Most frightening from an immigration viewpoint is the completely infeasible sealed border that Sen. McCain wants in the bill, a standard that DHS Secretary Johnson says is “unworkable” and that N. Korea and other totalitarian regimes with a shoot to kill practice can’t even achieve. Instead of attempting to pass piecemeal border security bills, Senators McCain and Flake should be re-focusing their immigration-related efforts on trying to rekindle the push for comprehensive and common-sense solutions. The business community is struggling to bring or retain high-skilled workers in the wake of the 2015 H-1B filing debacle where 233,000 applications were filed and more than 2/3rds of these applications (plus the filing fees) are being rejected due to an antiquated quota system. Ultimately, this only hurts our nation’s economy.

The agriculture community has been pressing for their own visa reforms and the need for a modernized guest worker program and potential path to a green card.  The family-based immigration system is a mess and in dire need of changes. Millions of hard-working, deserving undocumented individuals remain in limbo. So, rather than trying to push for a straight border security bill that would ultimately increase the militarization on the border and have a negative impact on the desert environment, I respectfully ask that the two Arizona senators look at the bigger picture as they did in 2013 and avoid the unworkable border-security-above-all approach to reform.

Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Punch Line Material

shutterstock_215658637Three cheers to Daniel M. Gerstein and Martina L. Melliand for their story (The forgotten cornerstone in the immigration reform debate) in The Hill yesterday regarding the forgotten child in the immigration reform debate: the immigration court.

We hear endless stories about increased funding for ICE to detain and CBP to restrain but never for EOIR to adjudicate the caseload.  Instead EOIR is expected to continue to do more with less as the Department of Justice and Congress send funds elsewhere.

Immigration courts across the United States perform a herculean task on a daily basis with minimal office staffing and not enough judges.  However, Congress continually refuses to open its wallet so that the immigration courts can be properly staffed.

Because of this situation, the judges and staff that remain at the courts nationwide perform the work of two or three and respondents can expect that their case will not be heard for a number of years.  Unfortunately this is not likely to change.

Politicians will argue for funding for ICE and CBP because these agencies are tied to border security and enforcement and this is what captures the headlines.  Adjudication of 436,370 and growing cases nationwide will have to wait because it’s not headline material even as it drifts into punch line material.

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

Without Good Counsel

shutterstock_271782686On April 21, 2015 – a Harvard University graduate student, Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn,  published a column in the Los Angeles Daily News titled: “How U.S. immigration laws helped tear my family apart.”

Ms. Rodriguez-Lynn is a U.S. citizen and a resident of Southern California; she shares her story, beginning with her marriage to the love of her life, an undocumented Mexican citizen who had crossed over to the U.S. without authorization at age 17.  They had a baby boy and they later moved to Cambridge, MA so she could attend a Harvard graduate program.  She was living the American dream – except that her husband did not have the proper documents.

Wanting to legalize her husband’s immigration status, she eventually filed an Immigrant Petition – Form I-130 – for him that USCIS promptly approved a few months later.  Following a routine process USCIS sent the case to the U.S. Consulate in Cuidad Juarez (CDJ), Mexico for final adjudication of the immigrant visa. After receiving a notice for a visa interview, the family travelled cross-country from MA to CA and down to CDJ.  Her dream of living happily ever after with her family was suddenly shattered though when the visa officer informed her husband that he was subject to a lifetime bar due to his previous unauthorized entries to the U.S., a decision which they could not appeal.  That bar has separated her family for over 10 years.

It is no secret that our immigration laws are broken beyond repair.  On Twitter #RepealIIRAIRA should be trending!  However, that is not the point of this blog.

For over 2 years, without any cause, the State Bar of California has been targeting immigration attorneys with allegations of fraud.  State Rep. Lorena Gonzalez (D-SD) has made it her mission to “protect” immigrants from attorneys who she claims, without a shred of evidence, are systematically defrauding immigrant communities.  She wants to regulate immigration attorneys more than any other lawyers in the State via AB 1159.  The goal of the law is “to prevent unscrupulous practitioners from taking advantage of immigrants’ hopes and taking money for services they could not perform.”

Noble goal, but unfortunately, immigration attorneys are lumped together with notarios.  Since notarios essentially practice law without a license, the State Bar does not have any sway over them.  Perhaps realizing this fact, the State Bar of California released a goal-oriented outreach campaign which warned the public that per AB 1159 it is illegal for immigration lawyers and consultants to take money for services related to federal immigration reform until Congress acts.

When information like this is disseminated, through the State Bar or the offices of our legislators, it confuses people. If a Harvard graduate student made the mistake of not consulting with an immigration lawyer regarding her husband’s case, perhaps because she did not trust an attorney, then anyone could make the same mistake.

It is unconscionable for our public officials – including some members of Congress – not to acknowledge that immigration laws are some of the most unforgiving in our legal system. They should actively encourage their constituents to consult with qualified immigration attorneys if they have any immigration issues. Perhaps if they admit to the reality that our immigration laws are so complicated that only an immigration lawyer may make sense of them they will find the courage to finally fix the problem so families like Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn’s aren’t separated for life.  #RepealIIRAIRA.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee