Preparing for Battle

Author: on 04/01/2016


PrintIn the days following the opening of the Artesia detention center, I remember reading in awe on Facebook about the lawyers that were driving out and banging on the gates, demanding to be let in, insisting these mothers and children be allowed access to counsel. I followed, in the news, through social media, and via updates from friends, the developments as attorneys took over these cases and won. I listened to the stories of those who flew out to help. In the back of my mind, I wished I could be part of it all –but I had a demanding job, a daughter who was not yet a year old at the time, and countless other reasons, or so I told myself, that made putting my life on pause and getting on a plane to fly to the middle of the New Mexico desert impossible.

Time passed. The Artesia detention center shut down. But then the detention center in Karnes City, TX, opened, and then one in Dilley, TX, opened soon after. Dilley had a planned total capacity of 2,400 beds. This was more than 12 times larger than the Berks facility in Pennsylvania, which had been the only one in existence before Artesia and holds fewer than 200 individuals. The idea of the federal government incarcerating thousands of mothers and children at a time was inconceivable, but it was happening.

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At Long Last, Volunteering at Dilley

Author: on 03/31/2016


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

Author: on 03/30/2016


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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ICE Fights to Detain and Deport Teenage Girl Despite Stay

Author: on 03/25/2016


FB_IMG_1454041598864Kimberly was just 17 when she went in front of an Atlanta immigration judge and was told she would be deported. There was no legal orientation. No one asked her why she left her native Honduras or whether she was afraid to be sent back there. Even the lawyer her family hired didn’t tell her she could fight her case—and worse, actually asked the judge to order her removed.

Now, after nearly two months in a for-profit immigration jail in Irwin County, Georgia—under conditions that would make you weep—Kimberly is literally fighting for her life. And by the time you read this, she may already be gone.

In 2014, Kimberly fled Honduras with her little sister—gang members had threatened to take her as their sexual property. At best, Kimberly could expect to be passed from man to man, but girls who don’t submit are often kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered, their mutilated bodies left as a warning to others. Honduras was the murder capital of the world in 2013—our own State Department recognizes a host of human rights violations, including killings, weak law enforcement and judiciary systems, and abuse and violence against women. There are few, if any protections from a government that is both corrupted and outgunned by gangs notorious for targeting women and girls. Physicians for Human Rights shared the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women report, which noted “violent deaths of women in Honduras had increased 263.4 percent between 2005 and 2013, and there is a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes.” Knowing there wasn’t anything anyone could do to protect her, Kimberly escaped to the United States.

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H.R. 4731 Does Anything but Restore Integrity

Author: on 03/18/2016


shutterstock_120251062On Wednesday, at a time when we are facing a global refugee crisis, H.R. 4731, “The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act” passed out of committee in the House of Representatives with a vote of 18-9. Unfortunately, this bill does anything but restore integrity. I suppose it depends on how one defines “integrity,” but according to the dictionary, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” Can anyone defend what is honest or morally upright about a bill that would:

• Reduce U.S. resettlement to 60,000 refugees per year at a time when there are 60 million people displaced from their homes, 20 million of whom are refugees (more than any time since World War II);
• Negatively impact the treatment of refugees worldwide, as the world looks to the United States for leadership in this area;
• Openly discriminate against Muslim refugees (when more than 750 religious leaders and faith-based organizations have urged Congress to oppose such discriminatory legislation);
• Construct additional barriers to integration and family reunification, continuing and compounding the trauma that refugees have suffered already from losing their homes, communities, and loved ones; and
• Allow state and local governments to actively violate anti-discrimination laws and create forbidden zones for refugees.

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How the Years Add Up

Author: on 03/17/2016


shutterstock_384301372Imagine coming to the United States to seek asylum and having to wait four years just for an interview to decide whether you get to move forward with your claim. Four years. In most jurisdictions, asylum applicants are having to do just that: wait years for an interview, when before 2013, asylum applicants were able to obtain a decision on their petitions typically within four months. If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refers asylees’ cases to immigration court, their wait time is likely to extend for an additional two to three years. In the Los Angeles asylum office alone, there may be as many as 30,000 cases in the backlog. Nationally, close to 100,000 cases may be awaiting USCIS adjudications.

Once USCIS grants asylum status, if the immediate family of the asylee is overseas, he/she may file a petition so that the family may follow and join him/her in the United States. Currently this process may take up to six months. In theory then, it may take up to eight years for a separated family to be reunified. For gay applicants, the situation is even worse.

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Students and Professors Fight for Families at Karnes Detention Center

Author: on 03/14/2016


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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Chasing Away the Innovators: Not in America’s Interest

Author: on 03/08/2016


shutterstock_167669732In last week’s Republican debate, a significant challenge to American businesses was raised – the annual limit  or “cap” on the number of H-1B visas issued – a limit imposed twenty-five years ago, before the Internet and mobile phones and “Big Data” were parts of everyday vocabulary. This issue isn’t a newly discovered problem, it is something that has stymied business growth and innovation for years. The next generation of technologists needed to run our technology infrastructure and continue our world-leading development environment often are international students on F-1 visas – a source of vitality in the U.S. tech sector, and a key part of maintaining America’s leadership in the technology fields. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, have long thought that our country needs to provide a path for these graduates, beyond the H-1B visa. In fact, a bipartisan rallying cry in recent years has been to “staple a green card to their diplomas.” And yet, Congress has not acted.

Because of the challenges in keeping these international students employed in the United States under the antiquated H-1B cap, President Bush caused a regulation to be promulgated to extend the time of these student’s F-1 visas, which President Obama recently caused to be extended further. Not only governmental efforts have been made, however, to keep these students employed in the United States instead of taking their new businesses to Canada, India, or elsewhere. The New York Times recently profiled efforts by the City of New York, the universities in New York, and entrepreneurial international students to develop architectures in which those students could create their businesses in partnership with universities, and thus in the United States. Another article recently profiled how enterprising students and their business partners have had to leverage the visa process to create businesses that qualify for H-1B visas, again making efforts to build those businesses in the United States, rather than abroad.

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#0087

Author: on 03/02/2016


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

Author: on 02/26/2016


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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