Asylum Backlogs Wreak Havoc with Our Clients’ Lives, Part 2

Author: on December 14, 2016


(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.

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Asylum Backlogs Wreak Havoc with Our Clients’ Lives, Part 1

Author: on December 13, 2016


(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.

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Business Community: Speak Up on DACA!

Author: on November 30, 2016


shutterstock_188897156What 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.

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Offering the Community Your Expertise Post-Election

Author: on November 28, 2016


shutterstock_522382048There 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.

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Rage Against the Extreme

Author: on November 23, 2016


shutterstock_138193775Remember 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.

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The World is Watching

Author: on November 21, 2016


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?

Author: on November 15, 2016


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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Avoiding a Practice-Attack

Author: on November 14, 2016


shutterstock_494093176Solo 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.

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The American People Have Elected the 45th President

Author: on November 9, 2016


shutterstock_106049390We, the American people, have elected our 45th president. Today, as we all go on with our daily routines, a new era is beginning. Today we must search deep within and find a renewed commitment to our nation, to unity, and to the belief in the wisdom of our founding fathers who established our nation and our system of governance in the name of freedom and democracy. Though the political debate surrounding immigration has always been contentious, the presidential campaign revealed a divisive and ugly rhetoric unbefitting our country.

As a woman, an immigrant, a former asylee, an immigration attorney, and a proud U.S. citizen, I feel the election boils down to one clear fact: that we must continue to work towards acceptance and inclusion because within our borders, our citizens feel excluded. We must figure out a way to address that while highlighting the ways in which the values our forefathers held to be true continue to define America as a nation.

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American Parents Overseas Should be Treated Equally

Author: on November 8, 2016


shutterstock_334793393The Supreme Court on November 9, 2016, will hear arguments in Lynch v. Morales-Santana, a case in which AILA submitted an Amicus Brief, along with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.  The case, which will address and better define how citizenship passes to children born to Americans overseas, has the potential to affect numerous children by eliminating current distinctions based on the biological sex of an unwed U.S. citizen parent.

In Morales-Santana, the Second Circuit ruled that the petitioner, who was born out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen father and a non-U.S. citizen mother, should not have been treated differently as to the status of his citizenship under the equal-protection clause of the Fifth Amendment, reversing a lower court ruling.  If the Supreme Court upholds the Second Circuit’s decision, the Court will create equality under the law for children born to an unwed U.S. citizen parent, regardless of the parent’s gender.

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