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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Don’t Cry, Mommy

Author: on November 7, 2016


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

Author: on October 28, 2016


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?

Author: on October 27, 2016


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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California’s TRUTH Act – Due Process for Immigrants Held in Local Jails

Author: on October 26, 2016


shutterstock_376637839On September 28, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the TRUTH Act  which protects immigrant communities against harsh immigration enforcement practices. With this law, California becomes the first state to require immigrants be told of their right to an attorney before being interviewed by federal immigration authorities while in custody. The TRUTH Act responds to the growing concern that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP) and similar initiatives are replicating the failures of the former Secure Communities initiative—a program that was ultimately condemned after separating tens of thousands of families across the state of California and damaging public safety.

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Hostile Jurisdictions

Author: on October 21, 2016


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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Shining a Light on Domestic Violence to Assist Immigrant Victims

Author: on October 20, 2016


shutterstock_316304594October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is intended to shine a light on the human right to be free from violence, ensure that all victims of domestic violence know they are not alone, and foster supportive communities that help survivors seek justice.  In the United States, twenty people are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner each minute. Most victims don’t come forward because it is not safe; in fact leaving an abusive relationship is often when victims are at the greatest risk of homicide by their abusive partners.

Immigrant victims are particularly vulnerable as they often live in the shadows of society and face additional challenges to reporting abuse and/or leaving an abusive relationship. These barriers include fear that police contact may lead to deportation, separation from children and other family members, language barriers, isolation, and fear of being ostracized by their families or communities for coming forward.  Many undocumented immigrant victims are not aware that they are protected by U.S. laws and have options for escaping the violence. They don’t know that they have access to police or court protections.

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