Author Archive

No More Diapers in Detention

shutterstock_171343790The beginning of a young lawyer’s career is, naturally, a time of many first experiences. Many of these “firsts” are so nerve-wracking they churn your stomach: the first time you step into court with the weight of someone’s future on your shoulders, the first time you stand up next to a client and wait with bated breath for the judge to hand down a sentence, and the first time a witness changes his testimony on the stand. Some of them are utterly thrilling: the first client you free from detention, the first trial you win, and the first child client who says she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up because of you. Still others are utterly soul-shattering: the first time you visit a refugee detention center, the first time you watch a judge set a $25,000 bond for a destitute young mother and her children who sob inconsolably and beg not to be sent back to their abuser, and the first time you need to ask a guard for diapers in a detention center.

For me, among all of these experiences there are two firsts in particular that stand out for me, one recent and the other a little more remote.

The older of these firsts was the first time one of my clients breastfed her infant child during a hearing at a family detention center. Sadly, it was far from the last time I would have a detained nursing mother as a client. The many months I spent at the family detention center in Dilley, Texas, after that first week as a volunteer at a similar facility in Artesia, New Mexico, brought me face to face with dozens of nursing mothers whose only “crime” was desperately seeking safety for their children and freedom from the horrors of the rapidly imploding Northern Triangle.

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Opening Minds and Hearts in the Immigration Debate

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

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

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?

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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Avoiding Potential Pitfalls in the Global Immigration Context

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

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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Taking that Final Step Toward Citizenship

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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Hearing Echoes from the Last Refugee Crisis Today

shutterstock_324951011The United States and Europe are facing the worst refugee global migration crisis since World War II. Estimates are that there are more than 60 million refugees worldwide. Every day that we fail to step up and address this issue leaves more refugees at risk of grave and imminent danger, not only for the next few years but for generations to come. I know this because I have seen firsthand the continuing struggles among the refugee population from the World War II era. The consequences have a long shelf life.

I am an immigration lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, and have just filed an application on behalf of a man I will call Ivan. Ivan was born in Lithuania in 1941; he is now 75-years-old. His parents died during the war and he was raised by his grandmother in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. After delays due to Congressional inaction, President Harry Truman signed legislation in 1948 and 1950 that allowed a total of 400,000 refugees into the U.S. Ivan benefited from one of those laws and came to the U.S.

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DACAversary

Right Choice Banner AdOn June 15, 2012, President Obama changed many lives for the better with his historic announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. This critical and necessary action by the President went into effect on August 15, 2012 when young people were able to take the piles of paper they had compiled to prove they were eligible and apply for DACA.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of those first applications, and is cause to celebrate, but also to push for further expansion of this program. In the face of inaction by Congress, the executive branch has been able to help thousands of young immigrants and their families. Government figures show that to date, more than 728,000 individuals have applied for DACA out of an estimated 1.16 million who are eligible. It is a good start, but much more needs to be done.

Some were critical of President Obama for this initiative, but, he used his legal authority to help young people in a system where reform is long overdue. Children, brought to America, some as young as a few months old, were growing up only to find out that the only country they have ever known is a place where they have diminished rights and are at risk of deportation. Some of the clients I have worked with didn’t figure out they weren’t U.S. citizens until they were trying to get a driver’s license or applying to college. Most of these kids didn’t have a choice to come here and never chose to violate any immigration law. President Obama recognized that they should not be punished.

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