A Failed Hail Mary

Author: on 05/29/2015

shutterstock_246224011A profound moment in immigration history is upon us.  Through change in administrative rules, certain H-4 visa holders were able to begin applying for work authorization on May 26.  This privilege did not come about easily. Activists, including H-4 spouses themselves, fought long and hard for it. While they had been advocating for years, the first glimmer of hope came in 2011 when the Department of Homeland Security proposed a new rule to extend work authorization to some within their ranks.  But with still no action, supporters in 2014 stepped up their game and submitted their own petition to the White House, sparking engagement from the administration.

Almost four years after first being proposed, the rule became final in February, 2015. USCIS then announced it would begin accepting employment authorization applications in May.  At a stakeholder meeting to discuss the new rule, USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez described how impressed he was by the persistence of advocates on this issue. And he revealed a rare insight into what happens to the targets of such advocacy — people like himself. Brand new to the position of director, and no doubt still settling in, he said he was fielding emails and phone calls every 15 minutes for eight months from people telling their stories of hardship.  I am sure he felt the pressure!

So desperately needed, the new rule will allow H-4 visa holders to apply for work permits if their H-1B spouses have an approved I-140 or if they have had their H-1B extended beyond six years. It does not go far enough to allow all H-4 visa holders to get work authorization.

Incidentally, the H-4 rule was almost thwarted by a lawsuit filed by the group, Save Jobs USA (SJU), made up primarily of former technology workers at Southern California Edison (SCE).  SJU wanted a preliminary injunction to stop the rule from taking effect this week.

In the suit, Save Jobs USA v. US Department of Homeland Security, SJU claimed that H-4 visa holders will make it harder for its members to find work. The group represents former SCE workers who claim they were fired from their positions and made to train H-1B replacement workers as a condition for receiving their severance packages.  The organization argued that the new rule favoring H-4 spouses is arbitrary and capricious and must be invalidated because DHS lacks the authority to allow these spouses to work in the U.S. However, the law requires SJU to prove that without preliminary relief, its members would likely suffer irreparable harm and that issuing the injunction is in the public interest.

To meet the standard of irreparable harm, SJU had to prove, with sufficient evidence, that the purported injury is “certain, great, actual, imminent and beyond remediation.” To support its motion, the group submitted affidavits from three members who were former IT employees at SCE.

It also cited advertisements from IT placement firms seeking H-4 visa holders as evidence of competition. DHS argued — and the court accepted — that the ads were not for jobs but rather to provide training for H-4 visa holders.

The court held that SJU failed to meet the burden of proof for a preliminary injunction.  SJU had argued that the harm was real because there would be increased competition from H-4 visa holders. But the court countered that the H-4 spouses will not be limited in their employment and could apply for jobs in retail, finance and myriad other industries. There was no proof they would apply for IT jobs and compete with SJU members.  Speculative economic loss, the court said, was insufficient to prove severe loss. The court also held that the purported injury was not imminent since it takes months to process an application for employment authorization and it was uncertain when or if the competition would begin. The court also held that there was no harm beyond remediation because SJU members would find themselves in this same situation, with or without preliminary relief.

The court did acknowledge that both parties have compelling arguments: SJU seeks to protect its members while DHS would face difficulties if the H-4 employment authorization program, years in the making, had to be delayed.  The court made no indication as to whether one argument was more compelling than the other.

In sum, SJU lobbed a Hail Mary in the hope of stopping this rule from being implemented. Luckily, it didn’t work. DHS’ win was not only a win for that agency, but for all advocates, including AILA. And it’s a victory for H-4 spouses and their families who have been fighting this battle for years. What a relief that we won’t have a repeat of the unfortunate circumstances playing out in Texas v. United States, where DAPA and extended DACA applicants still face an uncertain future.  And although the case is not closed, for now, we can all feel victorious for our clients.

My hope is that H-4 visa holders who quickly find jobs will continue to communicate with us so we can collate evidence proving that the U.S. economy is better for having more resourceful and skilled workers in every industry. It would also prove that those who opposed the rule were wrong. And I hope that this proof will also pave the way for all H-4 visa holders to be eligible for work authorization, just like spouses of E-2 and L-1 visa holders.

Written by Tahmina Watson, Co-Chair of the AILA WA-Parents Committee

There’s Something Happening Here

Author: on 05/22/2015

DSC_0231I haven’t heard immigration lawyers called heroes many times before (though I know a lot who are). And I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it from a sitting member of Congress. But that’s what happened Thursday when Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) said that AILA member Dree Collopy and the other Artesia volunteer lawyers were his heroes. Congressman O’Rourke shares a cause that drives AILA: ending family detention.

In Washington, D.C., there is momentum building to accomplish something AILA members have known with every fiber of their being needs to happen. We’ve known family detention was wrong from the first days in Artesia when the only thing stopping the rapid deportation of children and their mothers back to danger seemed to be the pro bono attorneys arguing for fundamental rights to be upheld. After months in the trenches at Artesia, the battle shifted to the new facility at Dilley and the expansions of Karnes and Berks. On each battlefield, the volunteer attorneys, law students, paralegals, legal assistants, and translators were joined by mental health professionals, religious leaders, and others – volunteering their time to fight injustice no matter what barren piece of the landscape into which the Administration expanded its detention facilities.

AILA members outside of D.C. may sometimes feel like they are one step removed from the action, that the conversations here are different from those taking place anywhere else in the nation. Well, the conversation is changing here, too.

Yesterday’s press conference was a big deal. Representatives Lofgren, Gutierrez, and Roybal-Allard are long-time leading voices on immigration and detention reform. They called out the Administration for their callous disregard for the health and well-being of asylum seeking refugees. Rep. Gutierrez made it clear that his public outrage comes after having met with both the White House and DHS and gotten no result; he also committed to visiting detention facilities before Father’s Day.  The Members of Congress were joined by the incredibly brave Maria Rosa Lopez, a young mother who was detained for months and finally freed, along with her son, due to the pro bono efforts of AILA member and Director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas Denise Gilman. Speaking from her heart, Maria shared her story, a story of the trauma and hardship that detention inflicts on the most vulnerable and the damage it did to her son, and to her own psyche.

Another AILA member, Dree Collopy, who knows a thing or two about asylum law (she wrote the book on it—literally), talked about the conditions she witnessed in her time volunteering with the family detention pro bono project. Through her words, we saw the sick children, the deteriorating health of both mothers and their kids, and the concerted effort by the Administration to rip away the chance for due process and deport as rapidly as possible, with the refrain “This must end now.”

You might ask why a press conference is important – it’s a few minutes in the grand scheme of things. But it is a vital few minutes, and combined with the press outreach, the op-eds, the editorials, the videos, and the tweets, a ripple can turn into a tidal wave.

And the wave is not just on the House side. On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid – the leader of the Democrats in that chamber – called explicitly for an end to family detention. Opposition to family detention is becoming a gateway issue in this election cycle, too. A certain presidential contender made it part of her big immigration policy speech – and she got it exactly right: the detention of children and other vulnerable people puts their mental and physical health at risk. A few days later, another rumored presidential hopeful – former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley – came out publicly against family detention.

The Administration thought they had a way to tamp down this issue last week when they announced their plans to “enhance oversight and accountability” in family detention – you saw how well that went over with AILA and other stakeholders. The smackdown from congressional members, from NGOs, and from the public was loud and instantaneous. We need to build on that momentum.

We need all of you to help keep the tidal wave rolling. If you can’t volunteer in the trenches at one of the detention centers, make your voice heard by telling your congressional members exactly why they need to stand up for these children and mothers. More and more members of Congress speaking publicly creates more and more pressure on the President. Open their eyes to what is happening and the stain that family detention is on our country’s grand history of offering safety and security to the most vulnerable. Tell your family, your friends, your church – shout it from the rooftops that you have joined this battle. There’s no ignoring it any longer, there’s something happening here.

Written by Crystal Williams, AILA Executive Director


If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

Answering Questions from the Community

Author: on 05/20/2015

shutterstock_171841433Monday night, the Princeton, New Jersey Human Services Commission hosted a program addressing President Obama’s Executive Order on DACA and DAPA.  The Princeton community has been out in front building bridges with immigrants that live in the municipality.

The DACA/DAPA event was the most recent in a series of town programs designed to reach out to Princeton immigrants.  Two years ago, the community’s Police Department partnered with the Human Services Commission to build a better understanding within the police force of concerns in the immigrant community about interacting with local law enforcement officials.  The Princeton Police Department laid out policy guidelines limiting local law enforcement participation in immigration enforcement activity.  The effort to deputize local police as immigration enforcement officers has been long-recognized in our community as a stumbling block to public safety and building trust with immigrants.

The work of Princeton’s Police Department and Human Services Commission have advanced the goals of community policing activity meant to give immigrants the confidence to contact and interact with the police, particularly if they are victims or witness of crimes.   The members of Princeton’s immigrant community who turned out for Monday night’s program learned more about the federal court’s injunction in Texas of extended DACA and DAPA.  Joining me on the panel were Tatiana Durbak, John Leschak and Aleksandra Gontaryuk.

This kind of outreach can make a real difference in the community. Immigration law is confusing and complicated for attorneys, let alone the public. Yes, it means giving up a few hours of your time to preparation and the appearance itself, but it opens up communication and allows for a forum where people feel safe asking questions. I encourage other AILA chapters to reach out to local organizations and municipal commissions to find similar opportunities and touch base with AILA National for the latest news and information on the issue you’re covering.

Written by Ryan Stark Lilienthal, Advocacy Liaison, AILA New Jersey Chapter

Understanding the Mindset

Author: on 05/19/2015

shutterstock_255315073 2On May 5 and 6, 2015, Ryan Hutton and Rafael Henry from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Headquarters invited a group of AILA members to attend a southern border tour in Texas. On the first day, we visited the land border crossing at the Hidalgo Port of Entry, and on the second day we visited the Brownsville Port of Entry, which includes land, rail and sea crossings. The personnel at both ports were extremely welcoming and spent several hours demonstrating the use of their inspection procedures and equipment. We witnessed not only immigration inspections but also screenings for contraband, Customs violations, and agricultural pests.

As we walked through the ports, we were able to speak with various specialists. For example, an X-ray scanner showed us images of truck cargo and pointed out instances in which drugs were concealed within various compartments of vehicles. (These were about as easy for the untrained eye to spot as babies’ organs on an ultrasound image: not very). We also witnessed the wanton destruction of several luscious mangoes by a skilled agricultural inspector checking for insect larvae. He told us he had chopped up so many mangoes in his career that he can no longer eat them (a travesty).

As the tours progressed, a theme began to emerge. Regardless of which type of specialist we spoke to, each one expressed an awareness that the vast majority of travelers and/or cargo screened were compliant with federal regulations for admission. Each specialist was trained to look for the proverbial needle in the haystack—the one traveler (or poor, sweet mango) that was not compliant. As attorneys who deal exclusively with the immigration piece of border issues, it is helpful to be aware of this pervasive mindset. Inspectors at the border have a mental construct of a “good” case or applicant and when questioning a traveler, they are looking for something out of the ordinary, something that doesn’t sit right, doesn’t fit the mold, seems to be concealing something.

A twin theme was a layered approach to screening. Travelers and cargo are first given a cursory inspection at the primary inspection booth. Officers typically clear each vehicle in under 1 minute. Their job is to quickly clear travelers who do not raise any red flags while referring questionable vehicles or individuals to secondary inspection. All of the screening equipment reflects this two tiered approach. For example, each officer at primary inspection wears a small device on his belt that detects radiation. These devices will go off in the vicinity of any radioactive material, but they cannot detect which radioactive isotope set off the alarm. That is not the role at primary: they just say “whoop-whoop-whoop- PROBLEM!” and send the person inside. Then inside, CBP has more specialized equipment that is capable of determining the exact radioactive isotope and whether it is the result of medical imaging or a nuclear weapon. Again, there is a parallel in this procedure to the screening of applicants for immigration benefits. That is, officers at primary inspection are trained to ask cursory questions to determine whether someone needs to spend more time with an officer. If someone is coming in to buy groceries, and there are no red flags, they likely will be admitted very quickly. But anyone who needs an I-94 will be sent to secondary, as will anyone who cannot immediately be cleared.

It is extremely helpful to us as attorneys to understand this law enforcement mindset, and the way officers are trained to issue spot. It helps us to better prepare our clients for the inspection process and to understand how to present themselves at the port of entry when seeking immigration benefits. It is also beneficial to understand how this process fits within CBP’s wider law enforcement mission.

Written by Danielle Rizzo, Vice Chair, AILA CBP Liaison Committee

Approaching Liberty

Author: on 05/15/2015

shutterstock_217215274It was some months ago, which seems like yesterday, that volunteers representing the detained children and women in Artesia, New Mexico, were confronted with immigration judges in Arlington, Virgina who said no.

There were hearings before one Immigration Judge who would go on and on and on about national security as if the breast-feeding infant appearing on the video screen in front of him was something akin to a nuclear warhead. There was another Immigration Judge who overruled reasonable objections, ignoring ordinary rules of law, and setting aside common sense to decide that $20,000 (his average amount of bond held steady around $17,000) was required to protect the nation from the toddler and his young mother facing him.  Not to mention the Immigration Judge who stormed out of court because a volunteer attorney raised a few questions. Or even the Immigration Judge who in one case imposed a high bond on an indigenous Guatemalan client from a rural village because she didn’t show awareness of American political figures.

That was then. Then it became this: the court docket moved to the Denver court. Volunteers wept when more reasonable bonds were issued. The hearings were grueling affairs without any real need for it. The bond amounts dropped but were stuck above the national average and were not truly matching the facts. It was progress of sorts. Our aim though was always liberty without unnecessary strings.

Artesia closed and Dilley opened; eventually this month we saw the docket shift from Denver to Miami. A new court, a new set of judges, a new set of opportunities to argue these cases on the facts. Now, this week we approach liberty – the concept embodied in the Fifth Amendment that the Obama Administration, through its components at the Department of Homeland Security, have so routinely ignored. In court this week, volunteer attorney Elora Mukherjee asked for conditional parole from the Immigration Judge. The Immigration Judge said, well, I’ve never been asked for that before and I see that the law says I can, and the facts suggest that it is correct.  And so it was. Conditional parole. Leaving detention because detention was unnecessary and so was posting a bond. Lovely. The Fifth Amendment and liberty together again.

Written by Stephen Manning, AILA Member and CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer


If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

Game Changer

Author: on 05/14/2015

Dushutterstock_147037244ring a recent campaign event in Nevada, Hillary Clinton blindsided the 2016 Presidential contestants by stating her unequivocal support for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and a clear path to citizenship for the undocumented migrants in the U.S. She also stated the obvious – that when immigration restrictionists talk about legal status “that is code for second-class status.”

A week later – Hillary’s husband, Bill, followed suit during an appearance on Univision and stated his own support for a path to citizenship and referred to the policy of “inclusive governance” as “not rocket science.”

Indeed – as a nation of immigrants – we should encourage and celebrate the possibility of having more citizens.  New blood not only brings innovation, but also supports our industries, and enriches our culture.  Even the idea of long-term or permanent non-citizens is an insult to our Founding Fathers who released this country from the clutched fists of a British government which sanctioned the idea of  having “Subjects” as opposed to free Citizens.

To be sure, I am not a Clinton cheerleader.  Though I voted for Bill Clinton, I am also sober to the many mistakes made under his watch: NAFTA, DOMA, DADT, and of course IIRAIRA, to name a few.  However, I am excited to hear Hillary Clinton speak about CIR because we need to have this discussion once again.

As we all know, in 2013 a reform oriented bipartisan immigration bill passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 68-32.  Though not perfect, we had a bill we could work with.  Unfortunately, it was never taken up by the House and succumbed to an agonizingly slow death by expiration date when the new congressional session began.

The national conversation then turned to border security, only the Southern border of course, and also to the executive actions taken by President Obama on immigration policy.  The actual way forward, the way to solve the immigration problem, unfortunately got lost in all this noise and useless bravado.

I am not naive.  I understand that to pass any bill, we need both a President and a Congress who are willing to work together.  But I also understand that we live in a democracy where according to a May 2015 CBS/NYT poll, 57% of Americans want the undocumented migrants in this country to be able to apply for citizenship while only 29% want them to leave. We also have the 2016 elections coming up – a chance to vote for a whole new set of Representatives in Congress and a new president in the White House.

That is why I was excited to hear Hillary Clinton bring up CIR.  I am equally ecstatic that Bill Clinton, the very person whose signature is on the dreaded IIRAIRA, is also keeping this discussion alive.  People need to see the obvious: that it is morally reprehensible and financially impossible to remove the entire undocumented community and torpedo the unity of countless families.  Moreover, our security as a nation demands a full accounting of everyone residing within our borders.  It is also a fool’s errand to keep talking about baby steps on immigration reform without acknowledging that the final product cannot be anything short of a path to full U.S. citizenship for those who have already contributed in countless ways to our prosperity.

I hope that the Clintons’ remarks will end the national inaction on immigration and reboot the necessary conversation on CIR.  The restrictionists have, for far too long, drawn the battle lines on this issue.  I am glad to see the reformists reclaim the debate at the onset of our upcoming electoral process.  As an immigrant who is an immigration attorney, I believe the immigration reformists along with the American people at large will be the winners at the end of this Game of Thrones.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Another Kind of Obstacle Course

Author: on 05/13/2015

Interesting pshutterstock_136036019iece by Kristina Wong in The Hill last week (Army already enlisting ‘Dreamers’ as Congress debates immigration) about 50 DACA recipients (“illegal immigrants” as the author calls them) joining the United States military. The US military has long tapped skilled people to join its ranks, whether they be citizens or not.  Our country’s military has a long history of non-citizens fighting shoulder to shoulder with American citizens from the War of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program was created, as Wong states, to “recruit people with medical training or who speak a critical language.”  In short, the MAVNI program’s purpose is to increase military readiness which is vital to the national security of the United States.  Skilled people increase this readiness and security and we should thank and applaud these young Dreamers who desire to serve our country and protect our freedom.

Instead Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) used this opportunity to denigrate these young skilled recruits while also risking our readiness and security for his political benefit by stating about the enlistment of Dreamers: “the Rules Committee has the power, and indeed the duty, to prevent such a threat to our national security.”  I believe we should be glad that Rep. Brooks was not in Congress during WW II, as political games seem more important to him than obtaining the essential skills to win a conflict and protect our country by using all of the assets this great country has to offer.

In February of 1942, as the U.S. war effort in the Pacific faced a determined enemy, one exceptionally skilled at breaking US military code and learning US military strategy, it seemed as if no code was safe.  Along came Philip Johnston and he approached the Marine Corps with an idea to recruit Navajo American Indians from a California reservation and use the Navajo language on the battlefield as code.  He was confident the enemy would never be able to break the code.  After some internal discussion, the 382nd Platoon of the US Marine Corps was born several months later.  The code was never broken and we know the result. The military tapped the skills of the Navajo, a historically underutilized and overlooked but available asset until that point in the war, and it made a significant difference.

The purpose of MAVNI, Congressman, is to protect the United States by using all assets available to our great country regardless of politics, race, religion, creed, nationality and immigration status. For someone who trumpets national security’s importance so often, why are you standing in the way?

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee


Author: on 05/12/2015

FullSizeRenderDriving out of the Dilley detention center last Friday, an awareness hung over me as certain and cloudy as the sky itself. I’d just spent the week volunteering with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. As we pulled onto I-35 towards San Antonio, I scanned the open road and considered that most of the time I am unafraid. I don’t mean that I’m brave or even naïve, I mean that I actually have little to fear. There is not a high likelihood of violence in my life. I have no rational reason to worry that I might be raped, robbed, or killed on the way to the airport hotel. This is not true for the women and children at the South Texas Family Residential Center, “Dilley” for short.

To volunteer at Dilley is to gain admission to one of this country’s most bizarre industries. It is a refugee camp run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a for-profit entity that specializes, in its words, in combining “public sector oversight with private sector efficiency.” The Center neighbors the Texas Department of Corrections’ Dolph Briscoe Unit, and looks more like an encampment than the whitewashed prison next door. There is a temporary feel to the place, a collection of trailers next to a vast pebbled parking lot. A sign on the security checkpoint trailer announces “Appreciation Week.” Corrections staff enjoy an ice cream social one day and a barbeque lunch another, just outside the perimeter to what CCA refers to as the detainees’ “neighborhoods.” On Friday afternoon, while merrymaking CCA employees carry backpacks of corporate swag aboard party buses, the women inside the legal trailer described the reasons they’d crossed our border seeking sanctuary.

These were the stories we heard all week. A woman whose six–year-old sat in her lap while she described a gang’s threat to kill the girl if she didn’t pay them. Another who was targeted after her daughter was raped. There were victims of domestic violence so extreme it left physical scars, ignored by the police and told to deal with their problems privately. One soft-spoken girl was so afraid of the gang members in her own family that she wouldn’t tell her lawyers what they’d done.FullSizeRender3

Before last week, I’d never looked into the face of a child marked for death or met someone whose husband had been gunned down in front of their children. Heading out into the wide-open expanse of West Texas in our rented Hyundai, I had reason to appreciate the most basic privilege this country offers: a sense of safety. Just as fear is a feeling, so too is its absence. I realized how closely my sense of security shapes my identity. I define myself by how I interact with others. I try to be someone who is helpful, who works hard, who notices, listens, and laughs. These characteristics that mean so much would be nearly irrelevant if I had to spend my energy on survival. The lack of daily fear in my life liberates me to try to be the person I’d like to be.

Of all the women I met in Dilley, one stood out as uniquely bitter and rude. Before I met her, I had heard how she’d taken her anger out on my colleagues, accusing them of not caring, of taking their own citizenship for granted. Our interpreter told me that she hadn’t even wanted to translate what this woman was saying because it was so hurtful. Her resentment radiated, and it was unpleasant to be in her orbit.

We met in the hallway before her hearing, and I did my best to make small talk in my insufficient Spanish. I could sense her rancor. As we entered the courtroom, her pigtailed daughter burst into tears, heightening the sense of doom. The outcome seemed more and more certain as the hearing went on. The immigration judge asked whether a certain event made her afraid to return to her country No, she insisted, oFullSizeRender4ver and over. It wasn’t the abuse, there wasn’t a specific threat. La violencia está en todas partes. The country is riddled with violence. I remembered something a woman earlier in the week had asked. I don’t understand, she’d said. Do we have to wait to be hurt before we apply for asylum?

In the end, the judge cut to the chase. Are you afraid to return to your country? She finally answered Sí. He found, perhaps generously, that she passed the preliminary test in the asylum process, which means that she won’t be immediately deported. As the judge explained his decision through the interpreter, the woman didn’t smile. She’d been crying while she talked to him, and her daughter kept turning to touch her mother’s face, uncertain, expectant. The woman stopped crying while the judge issued his ruling but she didn’t appear relieved. Only when we were back in the hallway did the meaning of the proceeding sink in. As the interpreter and I explained the next step in the process, the issuance of a bond that she’d have to pay to be released, she finally smiled. Her shoulders relaxed and she started nodding, slowly at first but over and over. I had the strong impression that this was the first time anything in life had ever broken her way. I wondered how much of her personality had been chiseled by fear. If she wasn’t afraid, what kind of a person would she be?

A woman isn’t a criminal for wanting to protect herself and her children. A mother fleeing violence doesn’t need a correctional facility, she needs something more basic. I learned a lot of Spanish words during my week in Dilley: miedo, temor, hielera. I learned how to ask whether an assault was sexual. I learned at least three ways to say gang. But I had to look up the word for safety, segura, because I didn’t hear it once.

Written by Jennifer Sullivan, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer


If you want to volunteer to help mothers and children access due process at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

Accessing Justice Requires a Guide

Author: on 05/11/2015

volunteer-652383_1280The three-year-old boy was a charmer, no question, so it was disorienting to encounter him in a detention facility in Texas. He loved being pushed in a stroller by his 19-year old mother, barely out of childhood herself. How did they get there?

D- is an indigenous woman who married very young in Guatemala. She had a decent life with her husband, that is, until the day he came home with another woman who he demanded live with them and raise their son. D- walked out, with the clothes on her back and her son in her arms, and kept walking the two hours to her mother’s house.

Her husband, in-laws, and the new “wife” followed her, threatening D- and her son with death if she did not return the boy or live with the bigamous relationship.  They threatened to find D- no matter where she went in Guatemala and kill her if she refused their demands. She gathered her son and left – seeking safety through distance and over borders.

This was not a custody dispute. As the expert witness gently explained to the court, there is no access to justice for a Quiche woman from a village. She fled because she had no choice. The immigration judge agreed, finding that she fits within the criteria of Guatemalan women unable to leave a relationship. The judge recognized that she could only leave the relationship by giving up the child and decided that being able to raise her son is a fundamental right she shouldn’t have to sacrifice.

D- and her son were granted asylum and are now living safely in the U.S. D- was incredibly fortunate; most indigenous women cannot speak any Spanish and therefore cannot communicate with lawyers trying to help, but she had learned enough along the way that she could explain her case. She also was able to act as a sort of translator for other Quiche speakers in the detention center. Now that D- is free, her Quiche-speaking peers and their children are again cut off from communicating because the detention center does not have translators for them. How can they access justice?

D- has three years of education and cannot write much beyond her name. Stuck in detention, her case was stalled, despite her passing a credible fear interview, because she wasn’t able to complete her I-589 and get it filed. What are these mothers, particularly those who cannot write in any language, expected to do in order to proceed with their meritorious claims?  I know that without the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and the assistance of an expert witness, D- would have had little to no chance of getting her day in court.

Women like D- and children like her son need help. Since our government is unwilling to let them access justice from outside the walls of a detention center where they might have better access to interpreters and attorneys, we need to go to them. That’s what the CARA Project is doing, bringing due process to those families detained by this Administration.

If you can speak Spanish, volunteer. If you can’t speak Spanish, but can bring an interpreter, volunteer. If you know someone who knows someone who speaks Quiche or another indigenous language, volunteer and convince them to as well. If you can’t come in person but can help with bond packets or other filings remotely, volunteer. Volunteer. We are their only opportunity to access justice.

Written by Kim Hunter, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer


If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

A Look Back to Artesia, and a Look into Karnes: Part 6

Author: on 05/08/2015

shutterstock_247077634I last visited E- on Saturday, May 2nd; sadly, we met again at Karnes, the scene of all prior visits.  It was, I think, our twelfth meeting, and our first since the IJ’s oral decision back on April 13th.  E- was initially crushed by the decision, to the point where she couldn’t bear the thought of enduring another six months in detention to await the outcome of an appeal.  Nevertheless, by the end of the following week she somehow found the inner strength to rally for an appeal, which we filed on April 30th.

When an attorney checks in at Karnes to visit a client the routine isn’t at all very different from checking in at a jail or a prison.  You sign the required forms, you answer the same tired questions about your G-28, you surrender your backpack and your computer to the TSA-like bag search, you empty your pockets, take off your belt, and – hopefully – you’ve left your wallet and your cell phone in the car.  You trade your driver’s license and your bar card for a red visitor’s badge.  And now you head down the hall and enter the trap that leads to the family visitation room.  That’s where you see your client and her children waiting in their trap until the matron turns the key that allows them to step out of the trap and then pass through their TSA-like electronic detection device.

The four-year-old rushes to greet me and jumps into my arms, his smile as big as they come.  He’s as light as a feather, his weight more like that of a child half his age.  (I have a soon-to-be 4-year old grandson who feels twice as heavy.)  His 10-year-old sister is happy to see me, smiling, yet more subdued. She is curious about my laptop.  Just like her mom, she has made a gift for me:  a pulsera for my wrist, among the most precious gifts ever.  Meanwhile, E- seems momentarily relieved, perhaps clinging to the hope that the pro bono project will not abandon her.  (And we won’t.)  So she waits, brave yet forlorn, and worried half to death about what will become of her children if the family is forced to return to Guatemala. She thinks of what may await her in the homeland from which she ran for her life almost ten months ago.

In Karnes, E- and her children share a room with another detained mother and her own three children, strangers from a different country.  E- reports that her roommate’s 10-year-old boy has been bothering E-‘s 10-year-old daughter.  This seems like an issue that would be covered by the Flores settlement on children in detention, and once back in Boston I report it to ICE in writing.  The quick response is that ICE will look into the situation immediately; but two days later there has been no substantive response.

Family detention as practiced at Karnes is cruel.  The detainees live by a schedule imposed by their keepers.  A young mother is joined at the hip to her children all day long, unless the child is attending classes at the “Family Residential Center.”  The moms don’t have the liberty to meet their girlfriends at a local coffee shop or to shop for the food that she knows her children will enjoy. They can’t step out and see an occasional movie or get their nails done, can’t register her child for the town’s youth soccer league or buy some frivolous keepsake for her partner on impulse.  Impossible to feel the loving embrace of another adult who might actually care for her and accept her for the person she is and hopes to become, someone with whom she can share her dreams while drifting off to sleep at night.

When we argued for bond before the IJ back in March, E-‘s four-year-old son had been detained for 16% of his young life.  As time passes, the percentage grows – now over 18%.  God forbid, but if this family’s detention stretches to a full year, by mid-July he will have spent 22% of his life behind ICE walls.

Our government is hijacking childhoods in the name of what – sending a message of deterrence to other would-be asylum seekers?  Over two months ago, R.I.L.R. v. Jeh Johnson et al thoroughly debunked that rationale.  Or did it?  Despite the Court’s findings, DHS seems to be willfully tone deaf to Judge Boasberg’s ruling.  Meanwhile, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day – all observed from behind detention walls.  Next up on the holiday hit parade will be Memorial Day, and then July 4th.  On that day, of all days, how will our government reconcile the illegality and the immorality of family detention while the country celebrates American Independence Day?

Written by Frank Johnson, AILA Member and Volunteer

Please click on these links to read Part 1Part 2 Part 3 , Part 4, and Part 5 of Frank’s blog post.


If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.