Author Archive

Another Tool in the Fight to End Family Detention

shutterstock_263204690This wasn’t the blog post that I planned on writing. I had intended to simply share some information about the release of the ABA Commission on Immigration’s report on family detention, and will. But I was interrupted in my writing by the immediacy of what’s happening on the ground (OTG) at the family detention centers in Texas.

“I was with Ana when we told her and she cried and cried” read the e-mail from David Kolko.  David, Immediate Past AILA Colorado Chapter Chair was writing about Ana, who had been at Artesia the week I arrived, over one year ago. She was finally, finally, being released from the permanent facility she’d been shipped to when Artesia was closed. She and her child joined eight other detainees who were being released from custody after spending between seven and fourteen months imprisoned. Their cases remain pending with the BIA.

It has been more than one year since a planeload of 179 women and children, who had no chance to secure legal counsel, were deported in the middle of the night from Artesia, and only one week less than that since the first pro bono lawyers arrived in Artesia. The first night of my arrival, Shelley Wittevrongel and I were handed a pink-post-it note by two young female lawyers who had toured the facility as part of an ICE-NGO group earlier that day, with the names and A#s of several women who furtively pleaded with them for help.  We arrived at the facility early the next morning, as Shelley assured was necessary, familiar with the additional delay we would face before getting to the trailer where we would be delayed again before being able to meet with any of the women.

Continue reading ‘Another Tool in the Fight to End Family Detention’ »

One of Millions

shutterstock_244966882As an immigration attorney, I hear the life stories of immigrants from all over the world. I hear about the mothers, fathers, siblings, and children left behind; I hear about the choices people have made and the relationships that have flourished and failed. It’s a never-ending stream of sadness, hope, anger, and excitement. It’s the reason I became and remain an immigration lawyer.

One story, though, has become emblematic to me of the desperate need for reform.

My client is from Jamaica and was born deaf. She arrived in the U.S. in 1991 as a teenager and made her life here. She was married for many years to a United States citizen husband and had three children with him, but he never filed a petition for her to adjust her status. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic and my client eventually separated from him. Now, she is living on her own with her children as best she can, sometimes depending on the generosity of relatives to take her and her children in. But her relatives don’t know sign language and she does not read lips well, so she is often left alone in the world.

Continue reading ‘One of Millions’ »

The Time to Permanently Authorize the Religious Worker Program is Now

shutterstock_126785846Once again, September 30 is quickly approaching, and the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker (Religious Worker) program originally created in 1990 is set to expire unless reauthorized by that date. The program has been reauthorized numerous times, most recently 3 years ago.

The Religious Worker program provides temporary visas for non-minister religious workers who are not ordained to perform religious worship services, but fill other roles critical to a faith’s ability to carry out its religious and charitable mandates. Non-ministers serve a wide variety of congregations and religious communities, and include religious teachers, translators, cantors, nuns, monks, clerics, mullahs, and so on.

Fortunately, Senator Orrin Hatch has introduced S.1339, a bill that would permanently authorize the Religious Worker program. Strong faith communities are essential to American civil life, especially as immigrants learn about and transition into American culture.  And faith communities cannot function without leaders and those willing to offer religious service, regardless of whether they are ordained priests. Making the Religious Worker program permanent will help to reduce the uncertainty religious organizations face each time the program is set to expire, and will enable religious organizations to plan ahead and better serve their members and the greater community.

Continue reading ‘The Time to Permanently Authorize the Religious Worker Program is Now’ »

The Alternate World of Family Detention

shutterstock_159048077I returned to the alternate world of family detention at the end of June. It was both the most heartbreaking and most empowering thing I have ever done during my career as an immigration attorney. Trying my best to help these mothers and their children is wrenching.

The family detention facility is one of three here in the U.S. – the one I went to is located in Dilley, Texas, a remote area difficult for volunteers or visitors to get to. My first day, I met with eight women. At that moment, there were about 1,900 more mothers and children in the facility.  Although each woman had her own reason for fleeing her country, all of them had come to the same conclusion:  only in the United States could they find safety and security.  Instead, they were placed into a detention facility with their children, denied access to medical care, and told they would only be able to leave the facility if they paid a bond.

One of the women was from El Salvador and had been in custody for over a month with her young son.  I told her that her bond hearing had been scheduled and would take place in two days.  She broke down crying with relief.  She had spent the last month looking forward to that moment, the chance of freedom on her horizon. I told her she had to get her bond documents to us quickly so she would have a chance to get a lower bond. She said she would talk to her aunt immediately and get those last documents in. She was so relieved and happy. After she left, I began to cry too – her sheer relief and happiness was contagious.

Continue reading ‘The Alternate World of Family Detention’ »

A Special Place in Hell

shutterstock_210118552“Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself.” Leviticus 19.33-34

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Madeleine Albright

I met Carmen, a 36-year-old indigenous Guatemalan woman, at the detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, in September 2014, months after she fled her native country out of fear for her life and safety. She was held in detention with her 4-year-old daughter, Lupe, who was unable to walk or wear a shoe because of a congenital clubfoot.

Carmen made the agonizing decision to separate Lupe from her twin sister and to leave her two other young daughters behind after her fear and desolation led her to contemplate suicide. She fled Guatemala because she was targeted for beatings, kidnapping and rape owing to her outspoken belief in her right to study, work and be free from violence. Carmen’s father beat her throughout her childhood and well into adulthood, with one of those beatings resulting in a permanent injury to her eye. Her eldest daughter was conceived of rape, and the father of Carmen’s younger children also threatened her life on numerous occasions.

Continue reading ‘A Special Place in Hell’ »

Mistreatment of LGBT Detainees Continues with Planned Mass Transfer to Remote California Facility

GeoOn June 19, 2015, ICE/ERO announced a new policy that could significantly change the way transgender women are treated in immigration custody. On the positive side, the policy acknowledges the possibility that transgender women can be housed in women’s facilities, and it promises to provide training on the work that must be done to respect an individual’s gender identity. AILA and other non-profit organizations greeted this new policy with cautious optimism, but expressed concern that it would result in members of this vulnerable community being isolated from counsel and community.  For example, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) commented that the policy was likely to “result in hubbing transgender women in remote areas where they cannot have meaningful access to counsel.” In the two months since ICE announced this policy, the concern over hubbing—and in particular in Adelanto, California—has only increased.

Continue reading ‘Mistreatment of LGBT Detainees Continues with Planned Mass Transfer to Remote California Facility’ »

Witness to Inhumanity

shutterstock_167007272Paralegal Laura Tovar recently volunteered in Dilley and Karnes with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. The experience changed her life and she wanted to share what she learned:

What did you see and how did it make you feel?

They all had the same look, eyes sunken with dark rings, hungry, and sleep deprived women with listless skinny children. As a paralegal who works in Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto behind a desk, I returned changed from a week volunteering at the Dilley and Karnes City Detention Centers in Texas. In the midst of my normal life, I’m still haunted by the visions and stories of women suffering from domestic violence or escaping from their country in order to protect their children from gang recruitment.

At the detention facility I spent my time preparing women for bond hearings and credible fear interviews.  I thought that the shortage of legal help might be the biggest problem I saw but no, the lack of medical care was what broke my heart.

Continue reading ‘Witness to Inhumanity’ »

Indian Independence Day

shutterstock_134525195“Progress is implied in independence. Without self-government neither industrial progress is possible, nor the educational scheme will be useful to the nation…” – Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

When you think of the phrase “Independence Day,” naturally you think of July 4th and wonderful images of BBQs, apple pie and fireworks come to mind. August 15th is Indian Independence Day, which is relatively recent, having begun in 1947. It certainly feels recent to me since my father was ten years old at the time. Of course he later moved to Britain, where I was born, making me a British Citizen, therefore setting me up for a lifetime of combined pride and self-loathing. In the U.S., Indian Independence Day on August 15th is celebrated in numerous cities, and with a number of parades and parties.

India has come a long way. Just shy of one quarter of the world’s population and the world’s largest democracy, it is amazing to see the progress over the last decade. Modern cities and developments have sprung up all over India. The economy is booming and India is creating many different items for export. Perhaps its largest and most valuable export though, is people, in particular, highly educated people.

Continue reading ‘Indian Independence Day’ »

EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 2

shutterstock_211305115…Continued (Read Part 1 of this blog post)

In general, AILA and other industry stakeholders are finding strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate for the EB-5 program.  And yes, Congress has extended the Regional Center (RC) program numerous times since 1992.

But, and this is important, the current legislative atmosphere is uncertain and complex – especially involving immigration issues.  Many legislators, from both parties, want to address all immigration issues as part of a larger comprehensive reform package.  Extending just the EB-5 program and other sunset immigration programs could be viewed as piecemeal and diluting a comprehensive approach favored by many.

Continue reading ‘EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 2’ »

EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 1

shutterstock_211305115The EB-5 “Regional Center” visa program again finds itself in an all too familiar place – unless Congress reauthorizes by September 30, the program will sunset. For better or worse, the EB-5 program remains connected with three other sun-setting immigration programs (E-Verify, Conrad and Religious Workers).  AILA continues to be actively involved in the extension process and here are some updates:

Let’s start with a quick refresher. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa classification has many street names, such as the “Entrepreneur” visa, the “Investor” visa and the “Jobs Creation” visa. By any name, the U.S. Congress created this program in 1990 with the goal of encouraging the infusion of foreign capital to benefit the U.S. economy. And to that end, it would offer the privilege of U.S. residency to an entrepreneur in exchange for creating 10 new jobs for American workers.
Continue reading ‘EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 1’ »