I started working in the nonprofit sector in 2008, where I witnessed and helped a slow trickle develop into a healthy stream of Cubans on the West Coast needing representation. They refer to me as “la Chinita.” The Cubans, just like any other immigrant community, disseminate news amongst each other rapidly, both true and false. So, when President Obama announced the immediate elimination of the parole policy for Cubans, my phone and email inbox seemed to burst into flames with inquiries from concerned Cubans already in the United States awaiting their green cards, and from other attorneys that know of my large pool of Cuban clients.
Archive for the ‘Border Enforcement’ Category.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies force hundreds of asylum seekers into detention in the Central Valley, one of the most rural parts of California. In March 2015, ICE contracted with GEO Group, a private prison company, to re-open the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, California. Although ICE contracts with other jails throughout the state for bed space to house a limited number of immigrant detainees, Mesa Verde is a former prison that is now an immigrant-only detention center holding 400 individuals at any given time, the majority of them asylum-seekers. Mesa Verde is five hours away from the San Francisco immigration court, which has jurisdiction over all of the detainees’ cases. According to the San Francisco Immigration Court Administrator, the detained immigration court docket in San Francisco has nearly doubled since the opening of Mesa Verde.
Shortly after opening the detention center, ICE began transferring recently arrived asylum seekers there from the border. These asylum seekers are from countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America and speak dozens of languages, including Spanish, English, French, and Haitian Creole.
U.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.
According to UNHCR’s 2015 Global Trends Report, one out of every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum due to wars, conflict, and persecution that are not ending, but being met with impunity by governments and the international community. No surprise then that we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in the number of refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum-seekers. In 2014 alone, 13.9 million people became newly displaced – four times the number of the previous year. As UNHCR reports, “Worldwide there were 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million were displaced inside their own countries, and 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum).” These numbers, all increases from 2013, tell us that more people than at any other time in history have had to flee their homes to seek safety and freedom elsewhere. Unable to turn to their own governments for protection, these refugees must depend on the compassion and humanity of foreign governments as they seek safety and freedom.
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) took another small step toward transparency – issuing a Request for Quote (RFQ) for 108 body-worn cameras and 12 vehicle-mounted cameras. It probably seems strange to get even a little bit excited about the announcement of a bureaucratic process, but in the case of CBP transparency, every step, even baby steps, are important after years of push-back and blockades in the fight for body-worn cameras. Despite the ever-growing evidence that body-worn cameras benefit all parties, CBP has failed to implement the use of these cameras throughout the field.
In a statement, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said, “CBP is committed to expanding the use of cameras to increase transparency, accountability, and officer and agent safety. The body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras from this purchase will be tested by agents and officers in the field. What we learn from this initial deployment to several operational environments will help CBP refine requirements that will lead to a larger procurement in the near future.”
Last November, CBP announced its intention to conduct more testing and evaluation rather than actually implement a program to employ the use of body-worn cameras. As I said back in November, it is beyond belief that, given all that we know about the power of video to shine a light on the actions of law enforcement agents and officers, as well as those who are involved in encounters with agents and officers, CBP is still dragging its heels on this initiative. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, CBP should lead the way toward transparency and set the standard, rather than keep things hidden away in the desert, bushes, canyons, and riverbanks.
I had heard stories about Border Patrol’s mistreatment of immigrants. When I volunteered in Artesia, New Mexico, and Dilley, Texas, the mothers and children there told me what a horrible experience they’d had in Border Patrol custody. Over the years, I’d become familiar with the term hieleras, or iceboxes, shorthand for the freezing cold and filthy Border Patrol facilities, in addition to the perreras, or dog pounds.
But now, thanks to a lawsuit filed on behalf of immigrants by the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others, the entire nation is seeing for themselves the horrors that have long-been described. Adults and children held in extremely close quarters with only a thin mylar blanket for cover. Diapers being changed on top of the same unsanitary blanket that covered a mother and her child for hours. No showers. No privacy. And empty rooms nearby that could have alleviated the crowded conditions.
Why do we ask? And why particularly of Donald Trump and not Hillary Clinton? While the devil is always in the details, it is clear that Secretary Clinton has a more favorable view of immigration and has laid out a fairly clear strategy for how she would reform the current system.
But the question of what Mr. Trump would prioritize on immigration, should he be elected to hold the highest office in our nation, remains unclear. First he called for massive, yet “humane” and “nice” deportation of the estimated 11+ million undocumented individuals in this country. He has also repeatedly reaffirmed that a wall must be built along the southern border. He has noted that he wants people (who are deported) to come back legally because “they want to be legalized.” The candidate has also said that in the wall, there will be a “tremendous beautiful wide open door.” (Donald Trump on mass deportation).
Recently however, reports have Mr. Trump possibly “softening” his stance on immigration noting that “to take a person who has been here for 15-20 years and to throw them out is a very, very hard thing.” The outline of a plan appears to have similarities to proposals made by former presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who Mr. Trump previously criticized as “weak on immigration.” Yet there does not yet seem to be any clear and definitive proposals of what his immigration policy would look like in actuality.
“Apurar, cielos, pretendo,
Por qué me tratáis así,
qué delito cometí
contra vosotros naciendo.
Aunque si nací, ya entiendo
qué delito he cometido;
bastante causa ha tenido
vuestra justicia y rigor,
Pues el delito mayor
del hombre es haber nacido.” ~ by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Outrage is the only word that comes to mind to describe the Obama Administration’s recent admission that they are aggressively pursuing enforcement against families and children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has launched a 30-day “surge” of arrests focused on mothers and children who have been ordered removed by an immigration judge. It was also reported that the operation would cover minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age.
Kimberly was just 17 when she went in front of an Atlanta immigration judge and was told she would be deported. There was no legal orientation. No one asked her why she left her native Honduras or whether she was afraid to be sent back there. Even the lawyer her family hired didn’t tell her she could fight her case—and worse, actually asked the judge to order her removed.
Now, after nearly two months in a for-profit immigration jail in Irwin County, Georgia—under conditions that would make you weep—Kimberly is literally fighting for her life. And by the time you read this, she may already be gone.
In 2014, Kimberly fled Honduras with her little sister—gang members had threatened to take her as their sexual property. At best, Kimberly could expect to be passed from man to man, but girls who don’t submit are often kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered, their mutilated bodies left as a warning to others. Honduras was the murder capital of the world in 2013—our own State Department recognizes a host of human rights violations, including killings, weak law enforcement and judiciary systems, and abuse and violence against women. There are few, if any protections from a government that is both corrupted and outgunned by gangs notorious for targeting women and girls. Physicians for Human Rights shared the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women report, which noted “violent deaths of women in Honduras had increased 263.4 percent between 2005 and 2013, and there is a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes.” Knowing there wasn’t anything anyone could do to protect her, Kimberly escaped to the United States.
I’m an asylum lawyer. Every day I fight for victims of persecution and torture from all over the world. I listen to their stories and I give them a voice. Perhaps some of the most compelling and most amazing stories of survival have been those of women – women from the Middle East fleeing the threat of honor killings and the complete abdication of their rights, women from Africa and the Middle East fleeing tribal practices that mutilate their bodies, women from Eastern Europe and East Asia fleeing forced prostitution and sex trafficking, and women from Central America fleeing domestic violence and their positions as the property of their male family members – all harm meant to relegate and maintain women as second class citizens in their societies…all harm that is permitted and even encouraged by their governments.