Author Archive

This Father’s Day

shutterstock_279444212On Sunday, my kids will wake me up extra early and play “Las Mañanitas” to wish me a Happy Father’s Day while handing me handmade Father’s Day cards. They’ll give me extra hugs and tell me they love me. That’s what’s done on Father’s Day in my house. It’s nothing special, though it means a lot to me personally.

But there are a lot of fathers out there who won’t get that chance. Their kids won’t give them that extra hug or make them breakfast, because the Obama Administration is refusing to treat Central American families fleeing violence as refugees. Instead, they are treating them as illegal border crossers and separating families at the border – fathers are torn away and unable to protect or comfort their families, while mothers and children are sent terrified to incarceration.

I have served as a volunteer at both the Artesia and Dilley family detention facilities. I have seen the painful toll that detention places on these mothers and children, and as a father, it’s hard to stomach.

I’m not the only father feeling these emotions though – we recently asked other CARA volunteer dads to tell us about their experiences. Here are some of their reflections:

Continue reading ‘This Father’s Day’ »

Family Detention Takes Another Hit

shutterstock_161123432I don’t know about you, but some days it seems like family detention is a battle being fought on multiple fronts – the lawyerly equivalent of air, land, and sea. We have hundreds of pro bono attorneys and volunteers fighting nonstop to help families in the three facilities and helping families once they are released. We have staff in DC fighting to lift up stories with the legislators and pushing back hard at the administration every time a new horrendous policy raises its ugly head. Partners and supporters in this fight hold protests and vigils and are fighting misinformation pushed out by the federal government by sharing their knowledge with their communities through faith and service organizations. Many different battles are taking place through litigation. We are fighting on every single front with every tool we can use.

I wanted to share a victory that came two days ago in a Texas courtroom. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) was denied the right to license the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX, as a childcare facility. The Travis County judge, Karin Crump, heard Grassroots Leadership’s allegations against the facility, she heard the testimony from medical professionals like Dr. Luis Zayas, and she heard the voices of detained mothers that the CARA Project partners ensured were lifted up in the case. She did not like what she heard. The licensing was halted because the exceptions that the DFPS had pushed through, including allowing children to sleep in rooms with adult strangers, would allow for “situations for children that are dangerous.” It is wrong to endanger children and thankfully Judge Crump recognized that reality.

Continue reading ‘Family Detention Takes Another Hit’ »

Recognize these Mothers’ Sacrifices on Mother’s Day

CARA_MothersDayArt-1From Day One of the Obama Administration’s efforts to expand family detention, children have been the hardest hit. In Artesia, Berks, Dilley, and Karnes, these vulnerable asylum seekers are the ones who suffer the most when fleeing danger and coming to the U.S. seeking lawful protection for their safety. The children are traumatized instead of being sheltered. They are incarcerated by the hundreds as our government works tirelessly to fast-track their deportation and volunteer attorneys work just as tirelessly to prevent those removals.

This week we found out the Karnes facility has received an initial license from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) as a childcare facility. This effort is entirely at the behest of the federal government and the private prison companies, who desperately want to keep their cash cow open despite Judge Dolly Gee’s ruling in the Flores case. Licensing these “baby jails” as childcare facilities is just the latest in a string of outrageous and shameful efforts to keep the deportation machine running. Thankfully a Texas judge has temporarily halted the licensing of the Dilley facility as a child care center. But that battle still wages.

Continue reading ‘Recognize these Mothers’ Sacrifices on Mother’s Day’ »

CARA – One Year Later

PrintIt’s hard to believe that tomorrow will mark a year since the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project officially launched. Four seasons have passed, during which we have worked tirelessly to end family detention, urging the Obama administration to stop detaining thousands of children and their mothers – a decision that stains both President Obama’s own legacy, and the history of this country.

Together, the four CARA partner organizations have soldiered on over the past year. Staff members have put in innumerable hours to create new processes, hundreds of volunteers have come and gone, but one thing remains the same: family detention is an inhumane practice and must end.

The CARA Project has served 7,935 mothers over the past 12 months. Nearly 60% were under the age of 30 and nearly 30% were younger than 25. Eight hundred and sixteen were under 21. Think about that. Things were so bad for these young women, many of whom aren’t much more than children themselves, that they fled everything they knew and left behind nearly everything they owned, to save what was most precious to them: their children and their lives.

Continue reading ‘CARA – One Year Later’ »

Defend, Don’t Target, the Vulnerable

shutterstock_232202254On Christmas Eve, news leaked that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was going to begin raids to round up and deport Central American families. Over the holiday week, stakeholders, legislators, community leaders, and advocates pushed back hard on these planned raids and begged the Obama Administration not to move forward.

In spite of that, and without any communication from DHS in response to our efforts, on the first Saturday of the New Year the raids began. Reports surfaced quickly of mothers and children being torn from their homes, terrified of what was happening. Of ICE agents gaining access to homes under questionable circumstances. Of the latest inhumane and deplorable practices to which the federal government has subjected asylum seekers.

Continue reading ‘Defend, Don’t Target, the Vulnerable’ »

When the Narrative Shifts

11148730_10153682735318632_5462661337177844069_nI joined AILA’s Executive Committee with quite a bit of media experience under my belt. One thing I’ve known for a long time is that the news cycle can turn on a dime and what you may have thought you’d be talking about with a reporter can change, sometimes mid-interview.

As an example – AILA’s annual New York City Media Tour was planned to coincide with the one year anniversary of DAPA and expanded DACA. AILA staff analyzed President Obama’s immigration actions during his term in office and we issued a report card highlighting where he had made a good effort (DACA and DAPA again) and where he had failed (humanitarian protection and family detention), while also highlighting what was still incomplete (legal immigration reform) and unsatisfactory (enforcement). The tour was all set, appointments were made, preparations in place.

And then, attacks in Beirut and Paris happened and the backlash against refugees started. We knew the news cycle wasn’t going to be focused on executive actions on immigration anymore; instead, we read stories and watched interviews that were chock full of fearmongering and hateful speech, of lashing out and calling for isolation.

We talked, we strategized, and we went forward with the report card, but we also accepted the shift and made sure that AILA’s voice was heard.

Continue reading ‘When the Narrative Shifts’ »

Beirut and Paris, What Can We Do?

Syrian-refugee-crisis_crcleThe recent events in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris have brought feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. While these feelings in the coming weeks may subside and take a backseat to the holiday season, they will not entirely go away. And, they shouldn’t. The thought that there has to be something we can do, something we can fight for, will hopefully remain. Many of us are up every night thinking and talking at length about these events and their impact. This is, of course, much bigger than we are but it does not mean that we cannot or should not do anything. We need to do something.

Because this impacts all of us, especially the immigration bar, we need to start a larger discussion. We need to speak out against this xenophobic anti-refugee, anti-Muslim backlash.  We need to be open, be frank, be courageous and be hopeful. We need a deeper conversation among each other, within our communities and with those who do not share the same perspective. There is so much misinformation and misuse of facts. Fear and lack of understanding is dictating impulsive and hateful actions. Many in Congress are aiming to halt the refugee resettlement program for those from Iraq and Syria, while millions of refugees are desperately asking for help. Governors in 31 states are touting that they want to close their doors to Syrian refugees, with one governor already turning two families away. And, this is just the beginning. As immigration professionals, we are in a position to highlight the facts, speak the truth, and hold our elected officials accountable. We understand the immigration system better than anyone—we know the intricacies, the process, and what is required.

Continue reading ‘Beirut and Paris, What Can We Do?’ »

More Than a Label

MoreThanALabel LogoThis blog post was written in response to the questions raised by the SocialWork@Simmons #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort to highlight how immigrants are currently combating labels and stigmas and what can be done to promote immigrant pride.

My name is Victor Nieblas Pradis, and in June I became the first Mexican-American President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in AILA’s 69 years of existence.

Decades ago, proudly claiming to be Mexican-American might have led to slurs or denigration in this country, but times have thankfully changed.

As I shared in my first speech as AILA President, I was two years old when we settled across the “linea,” or border, of Mexico in Calexico, California. For me and my four siblings, immigration issues were a part of our experience and reality. The international border was only eight blocks from my home and the local border patrol station was only two. My next-door neighbor was a border patrol agent and across the street lived a ranking member of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Continue reading ‘More Than a Label’ »

Artesia: A Day in the Tour of Duty, Part 4

Artesia1This is what you need to know:

The due process violations are still going on in Artesia.  While the nation’s attention is on other concerns like Ebola and the mid-term elections, mothers and children are still being detained in Artesia and other facilities.  The work of the Artesia Volunteer Heroes is making a difference.  More families are being released on bond than being deported, to the frightened shock of the Artesia Mayor.  “This administration has changed their view on the rapid deportation, as it was the stated goal to begin with, and had just determined that they will simply release them into the United States,” Artesia Mayor, Phil Burch, said.  Of course, like many in this debate, he is quick to dismiss our country’s international law obligations and commitments, asylum law, and immigration law standards dictating release of bona fide asylum seekers.

Denver Immigration Judges are granting significantly lower bonds than their previous Arlington colleagues. This proves these families have bona fide asylum claims and the Administration is wrong about their national security claims.  Schools have now opened for the children in Artesia.

Yet, we cannot allow ourselves to believe things are getting better.  Let’s be clear, what is happening in Artesia is wrong, illegal, and morally reprehensible. The recent allegations of sexual abuse at the Karnes Family Detention Center, serve only to emphasize again our country’s failure to protect these vulnerable asylum seekers.

Ten US Senators have sent a letter to DHS Secretary, Jeh Johnson telling him it is “unacceptable” to detain women and children seeking asylum. The Senators asserted, “Mothers and their children who have fled violence in their home countries should not be treated like criminals. They have come seeking refuge from three of the most dangerous countries in the world, countries where women and girls face shocking rates of domestic and seArtesiaShirtxual violence and murder.”

This week, 32 House Democrats sent a letter raising three concerns, “We have identified three principal concerns with the rapid, mass expansion of family detention: (1) the “no-bond/high-bond” policy for families; (2) the disparity in credible fear rates for families in detention; and (3) the lack of appropriate child care within facilities.Nevertheless, the Obama Administration continues plans to open new Family Detention Centers.”

Please do not disregard what is happening in Artesia and in other detention centers.  Never forget.  I challenge you and others to take the Tour of Duty in Artesia, offer help at Karnes, or work remotely on bond motions. Volunteer. Donate. Be part of the solution.

These last four blogs posts are dedicated to the Artesia Volunteers and supporters who are changing the face of this debate.  “I think what we are seeing in Artesia now is the result of attorneys actually being in the facility, having access to these families and being able to ensure some actual oversight and accountability of what is happening in Artesia,” Policy Counsel for Detention Watch Network, Madhuri Grewal, said.

As the hometown High School Artesia Bulldogs’ motto describes: The Desire to Serve, The Courage to Act, the Ability to Perform, is what drives our vArtesiaShirt1olunteers.  Chingon.

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, Southern California Chapter AILA MemberVolunteer and AILA President-Elect

Miss the first three parts of this blog?

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

 

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to http://www.aila.org/beavolunteer or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere 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.

Artesia: A Day in the Tour of Duty Part 3

Artesia1*Some details have been changed to ensure privacy of clients.

The rest of my day went like this:

2:45 pm.  I return to the attorney’s trailer.  I prep two more clients for credible fear interviews taking place the next day.  I meet with a young mother who belongs to the Maya Mam indigenous group in Guatemala.  She speaks very little Spanish.  I ask why she came to the United States. In her broken Spanish, she responds, “They believe I am not Torres.” Huh?  It takes me several tries but I start deciphering what happened. In her small rural town everyone is indigenous.  Everyone is also very dark skinned. Both of her parents are dark skinned.  She was born with light skin. No one can explain it. Everyone rejects her. Her father disowned her.  Her siblings are forced to ignore her.  Her extended family does not accept she is part of them. Villagers violently beat and kick her, because they know no one will come to her defense.  Her young son is also constantly attacked. Everyone wants her out. Her family’s name is Torres but they disowned her. They believe she is not their blood. “God gave me the color of my skin.  I cannot change that. This is what he wanted,” she says with tears flowing from her eyes.  I cannot help but take two enormous gulps to keep from being overwhelmed and losing my composure.  I hold her hand, look into her eyes, and assure her, “your skin color is beautiful.”

She needs very little prepping. She says “they attack me because I am a single mother, indigenous woman, who has been disowned by my family and town due to the color of my skin.”  She has a strong case. Like my previous client, she also needs counseling.  Nothing is provided by the Detention Center.

Before she leaves, the client gives me 7 “papelitos,” or small pieces of paper.  This is how the mothers communicate with the attorneys.  These “papelitos” have their name and “A” number on them.  This is how they communicate that they want to talk to the attorneys.  She even gives me a bracelet belonging to another mother.  She could not write her name, so she gave her bracelet to send her message.  These mothers will be called the next day for intakes.

4:00 pm.  For my last duty of the day, I attend a credible fear decision.  The CIS officer wants an attorney present for the decision.  We are escorted to another trailer. The mother, her teenage son, and young daughter enter the room.  The daughter goes to play with the toys and puzzles. She is also drawing. The CIS officer goes through the findings with an interpreter on the phone.  It is a positive determination. For her accomplishment, the mother is served with a Notice to Appear and a court date.  I inform her she can now ask an Immigration Judge for a bond.

It is time to leave the room.  The CIS Officer walks out and so do mother and son.  The daughter is still trying to put all the toys away.  The CIS officer tells her, “Just leave them there.”  The young skinny girl refuses to listen; she is determined to put everything away like she found it.  “And these kids are national security threats?” I catch myself thinking.  She reminds me of my 8 year old daughter.  When she is done, she walks directly towards me and without saying a word, hands me her drawing.  It is a beautiful colorful house with a chimney and a big yellow sun shining in the sky.  I am stunned! Immobilized. This was her way of thanking me.  This is all she had to express her gratitude.  It is worth a million dollars.

I walk back to the attorney room behind my clients and the officer with tears running down my cheeks. I am taking deep breaths trying not to make much noise.  I think about how this facility is separating these families from their loved ones, and separating me from mine.  After everything that I have seen and heard today, I decide it is okay to violate the “be strong” code and allow myself to release some emotions. It’s okay. I am human.ArtesiaFence

5:00 pm..  We leave the facility and stop at a restaurant for a quick meal.  Our Big Table meeting with all the volunteers starts at 6:30 pm.  On the way, I notice that most of the stores close at 6 pm.  Even the gasoline station near the church is closed. “How do they make their money?” I ask myself.

6:30 pm.  We have our daily Big Table meeting recounting the events of the day.  Everyone shares their stories and important facts.  We discuss strategy and what to watch out for. For the next 4 hours, we prepare and cases are assigned for the next day.  The rest of the night is dedicated to printing motions, putting evidence packets together, translating documents, filling out asylum applications, and cracking a joke once in a while to lighten the mood among the volunteers.

10:45 pm.  I decide to call it a night because I am starving. I leave to see if I can find something to eat.  On the way to the hotel, I spot a Burger King Restaurant and I see people inside.  I speed to the drive thru and I hear a voice say, “Can I help you?”  I said “Yes, give me a quick minute.”  I look over the menu and say that I am ready to order.  Then I hear four words that will ruin my night, “Sorry, we are closed.” What? You’re kidding me, right?  “No sir, we are closed.”

I head back to my hotel for more oat and honey bars and I add a trail mix pouch for dessert.

I prepare my clothes for the next morning.

12:30 am.  I retire to bed.  I will sleep a couple of hours and start all over again at 4:45 am.

To be continued…

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, Southern California Chapter AILA Member Volunteer and AILA President-Elect

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 4

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to http://www.aila.org/beavolunteer or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere 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.