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 ‘Immigration, General’ Category.
The veterans among us know all too well the vast power that the Attorney General of the United States (AG) has in immigration matters, but for those who are new to the practice of immigration law, or just interested members of the press or public, here is a primer on the power of this office only as it relates to immigration:
(1) The AG has the power to remake the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft decided to “streamline” BIA review of immigration decisions and he was able to do so without any enabling legislation because the BIA is a creature of regulations promulgated by the Attorney General. Before 2002, most immigration appeals were reviewed by three-judge panels which almost always issued written opinions. But Ashcroft changed that to require single-member review of most cases. He also cut the number of BIA members from 23 to 11and dismissed the more “pro-immigrant” members. Since that time, the board has grown to 17, but there is nothing to prevent our new AG from remaking the entire Board in whatever form he wishes.
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.
(This is part two of a two part blog post; the first part can be found by following this link. Please note that all client names are pseudonyms)
As of October 31, 2016, there were more than 521,000 cases pending in our nation’s immigration courts – the most ever. By comparison, just 10 years ago, there were less than 169,000 cases pending; and five years ago, there were fewer than 300,000. Nationwide, Texas has the second most immigration cases with more than 93,000 total and 11,000 in Dallas. The immigration courts, which are part of the Department of Justice (DOJ), have hired some new immigration judges in 2016, bringing the total number nationwide to around 300. Dallas added one judge, upping the total number to six. But these appointments have been insufficient to address the backlog. On average, immigration judges have 1,500-1,800 pending cases. According to some studies, it would take each judge about 2.5 years to adjudicate all of the current cases in the system. But with more new cases being filed each month than being closed, the backlog continues to grow.
My client Ali came to the United States in early 2011 seeking asylum because government agents in Ethiopia repeatedly arrested and tortured him for his political activities and because he belongs to a minority ethnic group. During one period of detention, government agents whipped him with electric wire and threatened to inject him with HIV-infected blood. His case was referred to the immigration court in June 2012. His hearing was originally scheduled 2 years out from his initial court date, and then cancelled and reset to the spring of next year – more than 5 years after he originally applied for asylum. Meanwhile, back in Ethiopia, police continue to question his mother and brothers regarding his whereabouts. Although Ali appears stoic, a psychological evaluation recently revealed that these repeated delays have taken a significant emotional toll on him.
(This is part one of a two part blog post; to read part two, please follow this link. Please note that all client names are pseudonyms)
Sitting across the conference room table from Imani, we broke the bad news.
“We are so sorry, but your hearing tomorrow is cancelled. It’s been rescheduled to the end of the year.”
She burst into tears. Letting everything out at once, she sputtered, “Why again? Why is this happening?”
None of us were surprised by her reaction. When the call came the prior afternoon, we could not believe it. The court administrator explained that Imani’s hearing was being postponed. Again. Susan, the volunteer attorney who was the lead on Imani’s case, desperately pushed back. “We only have one witness. We think our case will be done in an hour and a half.”
The administrator paused, but stood firm. Without any explanation, the case was rescheduled 11 months out and there was nothing we could do about it. No matter that we had spent countless hours over the past month preparing, and were completely ready to present Imani’s case in court. No matter that this was the second time that her case had been rescheduled at the 11th hour. No matter that each time we prepared Imani for her testimony she had to relive the worst days of her life, when she was arrested in her home country, held for days, and repeatedly raped. No matter that once again, devastated, she would have to wait to see if she would be granted asylum in the United States, securing permanent safety and peace, and finally be able to look ahead with hope.
What if someone told you that by the stroke of a presidential pen, the United States was set to lose at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product over the course of a decade? Would that be a good policy, or even a prudent economic decision? According to a recent study from the Center for American Progress, that’s how much it would cost if Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was eliminated.
Nearly 750,000 people have been granted DACA by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS). DACA has provided many with opportunities that were not available before, including enriching their minds in college, finding gainful employment and providing financially for their families, and paying taxes. DACA has not only been a boon for individuals and their communities, but also for businesses. Since the election, I have personally spoken to several business owners that do not want to see the end of this program and would suffer if they had to lay off critical employees.
There is fear in our communities. In the days following the presidential election, I heard from a lot of people who want to help, but aren’t sure exactly how. Though there are many ways to get involved, I want to offer an example of how a fellow AILA member and I volunteered a couple of weekends ago. Perhaps it will serve as a road map for others to follow.
Two Sundays ago, AILA member Brad Thomson and I spoke at a large community gathering at the St. Mary’s Student Parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The event was organized by the fantastic folks at Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) and was supported by a number of other community organizations.
Remember the days when reasonable people could sit down and rationally discuss opposing views on immigration policy or other issues? The dividing line tended to fall along things like, “How workable is E-verify?” or “What is a crime involving moral turpitude?” or “What is a reasonable wage floor for H-1B visas?” Debate might get animated, and you might end up agreeing to disagree, but at least people tended to avoid unabashedly racist language .
The discourse has changed. Within the past few months, we have heard the now-president-elect denigrate immigrants, insult prisoners of war, and offend an entire faith in the broadest strokes. Within the past week, we have seen the Trump transition team offer prominent positions to people who have referred to Muslims as a cancer, or who are associated with groups that freely throw around terms like “renegade Jew” and “turban toppers.” And just in the past few days, on a major network, we tuned in to hear a prominent Trump fundraiser flippantly refer to the internment of Japanese Americans as precedent for a proposed Muslim registry.
By 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.
Solo practitioners and small law offices know that understanding the law and knowing where to find the law is only 50% of practice. The lawyer must also be the marketer, the paralegal, the accountant, the auditor, and the customer service representative, all of which involve skills that are not taught at most law schools. When these administrative tasks impact an attorney’s ability to provide quality services, that business is having a “practice-attack.”
When I started my practice five years ago, I needed to first find resources and mentors to help me establish a solid foundation upon which my (hopefully) wildly successful practice would be built. What I discovered, though, is that you don’t just need to think about the administrative and operational side of things when you start; it’s a continuing requirement for a solo practitioner. And as my practice continues to grow, in addition to being on top of the most recent policy updates, I also need to ensure I’m on the cutting edge of technology and business procedures.