Archive for the ‘Family Detention’ Category.

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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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.

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At Long Last, Volunteering at Dilley

PrintIt was a trip nearly eight months in the making, my sojourn to Dilley. As Chapter Chair in summer 2014, I heard the requests for volunteers and donations. I focused on getting the word out and supporting members who volunteered. As a business and family immigration lawyer with little asylum law experience and no Spanish language fluency, I thought “how could I help?” But at last year’s AILA Annual Conference, I heard from several colleagues that those two seemingly insurmountable issues shouldn’t stop me from doing just that — helping.  So I made the decision to go, and though I felt nervous, finding a few AILA buddies to join me helped to alleviate my worries.

Sure, my preparations required a bit more logistical wrangling than some. First, I had to identify a translator for the designated week. I remembered that Nick, my running buddy’s son, speaks Spanish.  He was a recent college graduate, so I thought that he may have some time between taking the LSAT and heading to Argentina on a Fulbright Scholarship. He reviewed the materials on CARA and agreed to join me. Thus, all the pieces were in place. The final step was finding the time, but now it was a reality. I was still anxious but committed. I had to bone up on asylum law and procedures and spend some time familiarizing myself with the CARA database. I had to buy plane tickets and make reservations. And I had to reorganize my life so that it could be put on hold while I spent a week helping families.

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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.

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Students and Professors Fight for Families at Karnes Detention Center

shutterstock_110919002Two weeks ago, six law students from the University of Houston Law Center’s Immigration Clinic visited Karnes Detention Center.  The students were Kate Chapman (3L), Ivonne Escobar (2L), Hellieth Pedroza Guzman (2L), Nekka Morah (2L), Medjine Desrosiers-Douyon (LLM), Mathilda El Hachem (LLM).  Supervising the students were the immigration clinic professors, myself, Geoffrey A. Hoffman, clinical associate professor and director of the clinic, and Janet Beck, visiting clinical assistant professor. In addition, Professor Ann Webb from the Graduate School of Social Work at UH assisted us, as well as her students. Over the course of three days, the students saw more than 35 families, helping them with a range of issues, including credible fear interview (CFI) preparation, immigration judge (IJ) reviews, and in some cases helping with declarations to support possible requests for reconsideration (RFRs) after negative CFIs and/or an IJ review. The visit was organized by Janet Beck and set up by RAICES, one of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project partners based in San Antonio, and the law firm of Akin Gump, who have done great work coordinating efforts to meet the legal needs of these women.

Below is a reflection from one of our students, Kate Chapman (3L), who shares her experiences helping women and children at the detention center:

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#0087

shutterstock_279204821The Artesia Family Residential Center was thrown together in late June 2014 in the dark of night and in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Before the pro bono attorneys knew who or what was there, the first plane had already flown South, returning refugees who were streamlined through a farce of a legal process, and summarily denied relief.

Once the pro bono lawyers began to arrive at Artesia and fight back on behalf of the women and children, they registered and gave client numbers to the detained families in a shared database – key to an organized flow of legal representation. When I was in Artesia in August 2014, I met Anna*, Client #0087 for calendar year 2014.

Anna was raised in a small hamlet in Guatemala without electricity, roads, schools or running water. She was orphaned at age ten, and endured untold physical abuse at the hands of her maternal uncle. She never went to school, and spoke only a dialect known as Acateco, a language spoken by maybe 50,000 people in the world. At sixteen, as she was taking her uncle lunch as he worked the fields, she was raped by a stranger. Once her uncle became aware of her rape and subsequent pregnancy, he welcomed the rapist to live in their shared home to legitimize their relationship, as he felt the unwanted pregnancy brought shame to the household. Anna’s grandmother protected Anna as much as a grandmother could, and when she came across the rapist trying to strangle Anna, the grandmother kicked the rapist out.

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Benefits of Volunteering Go Beyond the Client

shutterstock_272360927I spend most of my days steeped in PERM filings, H-1Bs and other thorny employment-based conundrums. I don’t speak Spanish. The number of asylum cases I have handled can be counted on one hand. I have rarely represented clients in Immigration Court. And yet, last year, I offered to help the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project remotely, if an opportunity arose. I didn’t expect the immediate reply of, “Here you go! The brief is due in a week!”

A week later, I was informed that a four-year-old girl was dancing around the CARA attorneys’ evening meeting singing the theme song from Frozen, grateful for the opportunity to remain safe in this country as a result of my one week of concerted effort. How was I able to do this? The incredible mentorship and support of two local immigration attorneys, Kim Hunter and Malee Ketelsen-Renner, made it possible for my efforts to change the lives of a mother and daughter in detention. I could urge everyone to volunteer because it is the humane and ethical obligation of any expert in immigration law. However, this volunteer experience was valuable for reasons well beyond the warm fuzzies that I continue to feel, nearly a year later

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What Asylum Law is About

shutterstock_272600546I’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.

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The Ultimate Act of Motherly Love

shutterstock_220381390I recently visited the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration and as a CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project volunteer. I have been going to jails and prisons for more than 25 years, my entire career, but I have never been in a prison complete with locked metal doors, security cameras, and a prison wall with fencing thirty feet high, but also with kids in strollers, infants, stacks of diapers, a room of clothes that includes 0-3 month onesies, and a “yard” outfitted to include a playground. Despite what the government calls them, these are prisons, just like any prison I’ve been to throughout my career, except there are children in these. It feels so wrong.

The women who agreed to talk with us had been incarcerated from a couple days to two weeks. They didn’t seem to really grasp the process, their rights, or know what was going to happen next.  They also didn’t seem to understand the importance of the credible or reasonable fear interviews, the first step in the path to protection in the U.S. What was apparent was how difficult it is for these women to share what caused them to flee, to lay out the horrifying facts to a complete stranger.

Among the stories shared are those of terror and fear, women trying to escape violence and persecution with children in tow:  A teenage daughter  threatened with rape and death on her way home from school. Children told that they must sell drugs or their families would be murdered. Friends and cousins tortured and killed. Toddlers and school-age children threatened with guns to their heads while their mothers were forced to watch. The police couldn’t or wouldn’t help them. This is what they fled from.

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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.

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