Archive for the ‘Family Detention’ Category.

Building a Force of Zealous, Creative Refugee and Asylum Advocates

shutterstock_432808786According 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.

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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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When Pictures Are Worth More than a Thousand Words

vtcc000019a_1I 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.

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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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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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Adjusting Back to Real Life

shutterstock_194503949It’s been an adjustment getting back into the “real life” of being home after being in Dilley for a month. I love my family. When I got home from volunteering at the family detention center in Dilley, the first thing I did was hug my wife and son. It wasn’t just because I missed them, which I did. It was because I was so grateful that they were at home and safe and healthy.  And we would be together and didn’t have to worry about being forced apart.

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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:

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Ghosts in History?

shutterstock_9108796May 31st marked the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. To celebrate, the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego recruited other local bar associations for some lawyerly fun – reenacting Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1875), otherwise known as the “22 Lewd Chinese Women” case. The Asian American Bar Association of New York had fashioned a script from historical transcripts, briefs and their own research. It struck me that this particular case and these 22 women did so much for the rights of immigrants, but except for a bunch of lawyers keeping that knowledge alive, the impact seemed lost to the ghosts of history. I especially feel that we aren’t learning from history in light of recent hateful rhetoric aimed at particular religions and cultures by some in the public sphere, and the ordering of raids and deportations of vulnerable mothers and children by this administration.

I represented AILA’s San Diego Chapter in this reenactment but wholly admit that I participated because I really wanted to shout in Chinese and tell people that I was a part of the “22 Lewd Chinese Women.” Sadly, I was not cast as one of the women. But as I listened to the direct and cross-examinations, the quick condemnations of an entire population of people seemed so similar to what is going on today. Back then, society questioned the motives of Chinese women entering the country. It was enough for someone, with no expertise in the culture, to say that their clothes resembled those worn by prostitutes because they were gaudy with large sleeves. That’s all it took to affirm the notion that they were whores and for a California court to order the women be returned to China.

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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.

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Outrage

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“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.

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