Archive for the ‘Family Detention’ Category.

The World is Watching

shutterstock_81287065By now, it is no longer a surprise to learn that many immigration lawyers, and the clients they serve, live in certain “hostile jurisdictions,” where it is almost impossible to win an asylum case no matter the facts. In places like Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, people seeking asylum, and the attorneys fighting for them, know they are likely going to lose no matter how strong the case, or how real the fear. Going into this kind of battle expecting to lose takes a special type of courage, and a lot of support, because as a lawyer, you know that no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how much you think the law is on your side, the deck is still stacked against you.

But the deck shouldn’t be stacked against anyone because immigration law in the United States is, after all, federal law, and as such should be applied uniformly, from California to Georgia and from New York to Florida. An asylum claim presented in a court in California should be evaluated under the same law and have the same chances of approval as an asylum claim in Georgia or North Carolina. But AILA members know that this is simply not the case. We know that, no matter the facts, the claim of an asylum seeker in a hostile jurisdiction like Georgia or North Carolina is not evaluated under the same standards as asylum seekers in the rest of the United States.

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Where Does Family Detention Stand Now?

shutterstock_315356267During the contentious presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton’s immigration platform included a promise to end the detention of immigrant families, while President-elect Donald Trump has never specifically addressed the issue of family detention at all. Instead, Trump’s website broadly states that anyone who “illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country.” And given Trump’s other pronouncements about immigration—including his vows to ban the admission of Muslims, deport millions, repeal DACA, and build a wall along our southern border—it seems safe to assume that family detention will not only continue but could potentially expand in the Trump Administration. So with this in mind, allow me to share just a few of the stories I have heard from detained women about why they made the difficult choice to flee to the United States with their children. I know I’m preaching to the choir in this forum, but we must remember that in addition to the big-picture reasons why family detention is bad policy, the personal stories of women and babies in jail make it crystal clear how wrong it is.

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Don’t Cry, Mommy

shutterstock_337787162After going through security, placing my phone in the locker outside the facility, and relinquishing my driver’s license in exchange for a one-day entry badge, I entered the trailer excited and anxious. As a business immigration attorney, though I was outside my comfort zone, I was ready for a new and meaningful experience.

Day one was a blur as I met with as many women as possible over the next ten hours to prepare them for their credible fear interviews. The women shared grueling stories of gang threats and domestic violence. Throughout the day, I learned a lot and became more comfortable with the process. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I looked between my colleague who was translating and the women with empathy. I regretted not being able to communicate verbally. I saw tears in the women’s eyes as they communicated with my Spanish-speaking colleague and wondered if it was normal to feel somewhat disconnected from the clearly emotional experience.

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Profiting Off Trauma

shutterstock_373634620Last year, I spent a week as a volunteer attorney with the CARA Project at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Although the government calls it a “residential center,” it is, of course, a prison that detains thousands of women and children who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. On my first day at the prison, I found many things jarring – the baby strollers lined up in a row, the infants crying in their mothers’ arms, the children playing in what is essentially a prison yard surrounded by a high metal fence. But what was perhaps most shocking to me was what is prominently displayed when you first walk through the front door: a whiteboard noting CCA’s closing stock price from the previous day.

CCA is the largest for-profit prison company in the United States. The prison at Dilley reminds all visitors in that first instant that incarcerating women and children here is a business that is traded on an international market: CCA profits substantially from detaining vulnerable asylum seekers, and lobbies Congress so that it can detain more families and make more money. It is a vicious and inhumane cycle.

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When Will They Listen?

shutterstock_473539426Family detention is wrong. The mass incarceration and detention of asylum seekers is wrong. The detention of immigrants who are not flight risks and pose no danger to community or national safety is wrong. It’s not just me saying it, or just AILA saying it, or even churches, community groups, NGOs, and Congressional Members. Now, the United Nations is saying it as well.

This week, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention completed a two-week visit to the U.S. I hadn’t realized there was a working group on arbitrary detention until this working group geared up to visit, but given the abuse of the detention mechanism around the world, I am heartened to know the subject is being tracked and investigated by the U.N. However, I am embarrassed for our country that the need existed to examine what the U.S. government has been doing.

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Hostile Jurisdictions

shutterstock_372661681U.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.

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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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