Category: AILA

Dilley as I Saw It, Part 2

Dilley as I Saw It, Part 2

Author: on 10/15/2015

shutterstock_305963021Stefan Babich recently traveled to Dilley, Texas, to volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. In this two-part blog post, he walks readers through his first day of volunteering and the mothers whose stories he heard. Click here to read Part 1.

What is it like hearing the life stories of the mothers and children? What impact does that have on you as a volunteer?

The stories I heard tended to follow one of several set patterns—women threatened by gangs, women with family members murdered by gangs, women asked to give up their savings or their children, women with drug-addicted, abusive spouses—but the details varied. It’s the details that the asylum officers use to determine the merits of each case, to decide whether each woman should be moved ahead to the next stage of the asylum process, so it’s important that these women be able to describe their experiences in—as I and the lawyer with whom I was working would tell them—“descriptive and clear language.”

So I listened to one mother tell me about how she was attacked by a man with a machete, then went to the police only to find a member of the same gang as the man who attacked her sitting at the front desk. I listened to another express the fear that an asylum officer will interview her young son, thus forcing him to recall traumas he was beginning to bury—such as the time his father beat his mother so badly she lost her unborn child.

I heard about how a local gang threatened to bomb an entire school full of children, about how they garrotted a woman’s brother in a public pool and hung her uncle’s naked corpse from a bridge, how they demanded that yet another mother turn her adolescent daughter over to be a gang leader’s sex slave, and I understand. These stories are, to put it bluntly, about as bad as it gets.

I can’t help but feel that even if these women make it through the asylum process, the cost will be terrible. No one should have to describe one’s rape, torture, or the death of one’s family members to a stony-faced, suspicious government official, especially not in front of one’s children. I did what I can to help, but I can’t help but feel that what these people really need isn’t a lawyer; it’s a psychologist.

Do you have any doubts about the stories the mothers share?

It might be easy to assume that these women are lying; but it’s important to remember that many of them have children outside the detention center. One woman, her eyes filled with tears, told me she brought her six-year-old, but was forced to leave her one-year-old baby behind. This is not the act of a woman who has come seeking a brighter tomorrow. This is the act of a woman seeking a tomorrow, period—an act of desperation.

“I didn’t want to leave,” another woman told me, sobbing. “But they threatened to kill my daughter.” She’s referring to the Mara Salvatruchas, one of Latin America’s most depraved and violent gangs. “They said they would kill her. She’s the only daughter I have.”

The girl—who might be anywhere between five and seven, I can’t now recall—was playing in the corner of the room at the time. I’m not sure if she even fully understood what was happening, or the fate she so narrowly escaped. But she saw her mother’s pain; she went to her, and put her arm around her. It was an intensely powerful moment. Before long we were all crying together.

This woman, and all those like her, are completely within their rights to be here. Women fleeing violence, fleeing the threat of persecution or death, fleeing governments that cannot or will not offer them protection, have the right to come to the United States and seek asylum, the equivalent of refugee status, under international law.

For daring to exercise this right, they are locked, first in holding cells called hieleras (literally “ice-box” in English), where they are threatened, insulted (“lying bitch,” for example), and sometimes separated from their traumatized children for days, before being transferred to detention facilities like the one in Dilley. If a woman arrives with a male family member over the age of eighteen, tough luck—that man will be carted off somewhere else, and it is up to the two of them to find a way to re-unite—the government certainly won’t help.

This isn’t the way one should treat desperate, traumatized asylum seekers. It is the way one treats dangerous invaders. And since that is the narrative that has been constructed around these women, it is difficult to effect any change in this brutal process.

How does the preparation process work?

Though the volunteer lawyers of the CARA project offer the women counsel and try to prepare them for their interviews, when it comes down to the interview itself, it’s just the women (and sometimes their children), the asylum officer, and an interpreter. No lawyer. No friendly faces. That’s because there just aren’t enough lawyers—there just isn’t enough time. There are too many people who need help. And though the volunteers do their best to prepare them, some are going to fail—not because their fear isn’t strong enough, and not because they’re lying, but just because of the nature of the law—and this, I found, was the hardest part to explain to the women themselves.

Asylum seekers have to demonstrate not only that they have a “Credible fear” of returning to their home country, but that their fear is based on membership in what is called a “particular social group”—a group of people with a common immutable characteristic, socially distinct within their society, and defined with particular boundaries so that one could discern who is a member of that group, and who is not. What those legal terms mean, of course, is exceedingly complicated.

It’s not an easy thing to explain to a woman whose brother was strangled to death in a public pool that even though what she is about to undergo is called a credible fear interview, it’s not just a matter of how credible she is, or how afraid. Instead, the difference between life and death for these women and their children is how well their fears can be categorized and labeled—as if their stories were Netflix movies being sorted into different genres. With Netflix, the more genres a movie falls into, the better the customers will know if they want to watch it (a dark, gritty family drama is more telling than just a simple drama). In Dilley, the more labels that can be applied to a person’s fear, the better off that person will usually be in an interview. A single Guatemalan mother is getting somewhere, but far better is a single indigenous-speaking Guatemalan mother extorted by gangs because she was a witness to a crime.

That woman might have a chance. But a woman randomly chosen to be raped and murdered by gang members might well not. Somehow, it is not the threat of death that matters, not even the level of danger, but the circumstantial details surrounding the danger. Sometimes, the difference between a case that passes the asylum interview and one that doesn’t can be something as seemingly irrelevant as whether or not one is married. It’s no wonder these women are so terrified, or so confused.

And when they come here looking for help, their terror and confusion is compounded by government officials locking them in ice-cold holding cells (where children and infants are denied access to bathrooms, so imagine the smell), by forcing them to sign papers or answer questions they can’t read or understand, by locking them in a prison with poor access to medical care and only limited communication with their families and friends. They are forced to recount their traumas before strangers; where they should find comfort, they find only suspicion. That last part of the process is a necessary evil, but the rest isn’t. These women and children could and should be free to wait for their asylum hearings in the homes of their friends and family, not in a jail.

Any final thoughts from your first day?

I remember that when I left the Dilley detention center after the first day, I noticed they were planting trees—not flowers, but trees—in the courtyard outside. Flowers would suggest a desire to make the place feel more homey and less intimidating, but trees are ominous. They’re a sign of permanence, of this private prison system digging in its heels, putting down roots. It’s clear someone thinks this detention center in Dilley will be around for quite a while.

I really hope they’re wrong.

Written by Stefan Babich, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, 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.

If you would like to donate funds please see the American Immigration Council’s page dedicated to the fundraising effort.

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.

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

Dilley as I Saw It, Part 1

Dilley as I Saw It, Part 1

Author: on 10/14/2015

shutterstock_305963021Stefan Babich recently traveled to Dilley, Texas, to volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. In this two-part blog post, he walks readers through his first day of volunteering and the mothers whose stories he heard.

What was it like, walking into Dilley for the first time? Can you set the scene for us?

I stand in a long line facing a metal detector. My belt, coat and laptop are sitting in a gray tray behind me. I might be waiting to pass through airport security, except for the fact that my cell phone has been left in the car out in the parking lot, safely hidden beneath a blanket and hopefully protected from the hot Texas sun.

No cell phones are allowed inside this facility, because cell phones take pictures, and someone doesn’t want us sharing any pictures of what we’re about to see.

I’ve come to Dilley, Texas with a team of immigration lawyers and other volunteers—interpreters who will help the lawyers communicate with the Spanish-speaking asylum seekers waiting inside this detention center’s walls.

All around me, men and women are taking off their jackets, checking their backpacks for any contraband, like hand sanitizer, lotion, or coloring books.

“Coloring books?” I ask the man beside me, a member of my team. “Why not coloring books?” A friend and fellow interpreter had thought to bring coloring books for the many children inside the detention center.

“Not allowed.”

“But why?”

No one really knows for sure. One reason—the best guess anyone seems to have—is that there wouldn’t be enough coloring books to go around, and some of the children would have to go without. That might lead to jealousy, which in turn might lead to upset children.

It sounds reasonable enough, until I pass through security into the main hall of the building. It’s a space built in the style of a high-school cafeteria, with round tables, plastic chairs, and two vending machines tucked to one side, one proudly bearing the unmistakable Coca-Cola logo. I see a child of about six or seven make his way to that machine. He presses one button after another, reaching into the machine for a soda that will never come. His face crumples. After a while, he moves away, and a girl, even younger, takes his place. Still no luck. She starts to cry.

So much for not upsetting children.

The pictures in the front hall show images of laughing kids chasing a soccer ball over a dirt field, of smiling women eating and talking together. And, truth be told, despite the vending machines, it’s not that terrible a place—at least from what I can see of it, which admittedly isn’t much, since the guards won’t let us beyond this one room.

There’s just no getting around the fact that it’s a prison for women and children. And babies. Yes, that’s right; United States tax dollars are paying for a private, for-profit prison that incarcerates infants. Medical care is spotty; I soon meet a girl with a scar above her upper lip. Her mother informs me she cut herself when she fell playing—maybe chasing one of those soccer balls in the picture out in the security room. The mother informs me that her daughter waited, bleeding, for five hours to see a doctor only to be handed the detention center’s most common and versatile remedy—a few ice cubes.

What is the role of a volunteer? What is working with the mothers and children like?

When these mothers and children are detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at the border, they are interviewed by immigration officers. Transcripts of these interviews were provided to us, the volunteers of the CARA Project; the transcripts seem to lend credence to the traditional narrative of the immigrant seeking a better life. “Why did you come to America?” one question reads. In the majority of cases, the answer given is something along the lines of “to work” or “for a better life for myself and my children.” “Do you have a fear of returning to your country?” Usually, the answer is a stark and simple “no.”

But when you speak with the women themselves, a curious pattern presents itself.

“Why did you leave your country?” I asked one woman, holding up her immigration sheet before her eyes. “It says you’re not afraid to go back.”

“I never said that,” she told me.

“You never said that? So you are afraid to go back?”

She gave me a look that suggested she couldn’t quite comprehend what I was saying. She told me that she left because gang members painted death threats on the walls of her house. She didn’t want to leave—she was a successful business owner in her home country—but it’s hard to run a shop when you are being extorted for all your earnings by the same type of people who force ten year old boys to commit murder and rape ten year old girls.

Though there’s no way to prove it for sure, most of the immigration documents appear to have no factual basis. I have to wonder if some of these supposed interviews even took place; what this mother told me is reflected nowhere in her immigration documents.

My job, and the job of the immigration lawyer with whom I worked, was to get the real story.

To be continued…

Written by Stefan Babich, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, 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 this fall and through the end of the year.

If you would like to donate funds please see the American Immigration Council’s page dedicated to the fundraising effort.

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.

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

Only 5 Workdays Left for a Proposed STEM OPT Rule, but Don’t Panic

Only 5 Workdays Left for a Proposed STEM OPT Rule, but Don’t Panic

Author: on 10/09/2015

shutterstock_306833483Ever since an August 12 court decision, technology companies, universities and foreign students have been eagerly waiting for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to republish a rule creating the “STEM OPT Extension,” part of the Optional Practical Training program that provides foreign students the right to work temporarily during or after their studies in the United States. A proposed rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last Friday, so it could conceivably be released in time to meet the court’s February 12 deadline, if necessary.

In order to understand why the time is getting short for the rule to be published means one must delve into the timeframes and procedures for regulatory action set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Under the APA, an agency must publish a proposed rule with a request for comment, collect those comments, and then publish a final rule that takes those comments into account. (Note that the agency need not incorporate any of the suggestions into the final rule, but must provide a reasoned explanation for the choices made.)

Working backwards from the required effective date of February 12, 2016, then the first timeframe to take account of is the mandatory 60-day delay between the publication of the final rule and the effective date. Because the rule is a “significant rule” within the meaning of Executive Order 12866, a minimum 60-day delay between final publication and effective date is imposed. As such, to be effective on February 12, 2016, when the court’s order invalidates the STEM OPT rule, the final replacement rule must be published no later than December 14, 2015.

To publish a final rule by December 14, a proposed rule should be published at least 60 days before that date. The 60-day timeframe is set by the APA, which requires that any proposed rule be released with at least 30 days for comment from the public. After the comment period, the agency will need time to evaluate and analyze the comments – at least 30 days – before publishing the final rule. So, the draft rule should be published no later than October 15. Theoretically, DHS could take less than 30 days to review and incorporate comments into the final rule, but that would be difficult.

The February 12 deadline for a new rule may, however, be vacated, meaning the current STEM rule may stay in effect because of the current status of the litigation against the rule. The district court’s August 12 order was the result of a lawsuit brought by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), which sought to challenge DHS’s authority to create any form of practical training work authorization. The district court’s order, holding that the practical training program was within DHS’s lawful authority, was not the result WashTech sought.

Since WashTech has appealed the court’s final order, all of the issues in the case are now before the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where a three-judge panel will review the lower court’s rulings. These rulings – that WashTech has sufficient standing to bring a challenge to the OPT program; that the OPT program is within DHS’s authority; and that the STEM OPT rule was procedurally defective – are the basis for the court’s order vacating the STEM OPT rule. Since all those questions are under review, the government will likely ask the court to stay the lower court order, suspending the February 12 deadline, well before it goes into effect.

Written by William Stock, AILA President-Elect

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

Can the Innocence of a Child Soften the Hearts of Anti-Immigrants?

Can the Innocence of a Child Soften the Hearts of Anti-Immigrants?

Author: on 10/08/2015

Image: Sophie Cruz/First Focus

Image: Sophie Cruz/First Focus

Sophie Cruz became an instant celebrity when she approached Pope Francis’s motorcade to hand him a letter begging him to help her keep her parents in the United States.  Her message was simple, coming from a five-year-old, yet it carried more power and conviction than any of the hateful rhetoric that has been dominating the airwaves. Sophie Cruz wants to stop living with the fear that her undocumented parents may, at any time, be taken from her and deported.  You see, Sophie is a full-fledged U.S. citizen, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to all who are born in the United States.   Her parents, however, are undocumented immigrants living in the confines of the underground world that our current immigration system has created.  They are unable to legalize their status, yet work hard and contribute to their communities.  Sophie’s father, Raul, came to the United States ten years ago and works long hours at a factory to provide for Sophie and the rest of his family.  Like many aspiring Americans, they are struggling to make ends meet, stuck in the purgatory of our unworkable immigration laws. Sophie’s parents represent our country, they represent the opportunity for a better America, and the future that Sophie herself dreams of.

But what is Sophie asking for?

She said she was afraid Immigration and Customs Enforcement would come and take her parents away, and that she has a right to live with her parents.   President Obama, through executive action, directed the Department of Homeland Security back in November of 2014 to establish clear priorities for enforcement.  Yet, even with policies that target enforcement against those who are dangerous instead of families, Sophie’s parents remain at risk of deportation.

In addition to, and designed to work concurrently with, priority enforcement directives, the Administration announced Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) which would have allowed Sophie’s parents to register with the government, pay a fee, get a background check, and obtain work authorization, as well as temporarily protect themselves from deportation.  The program, however, remains hostage to a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas and 25 other states; states whose attorneys general cannot see the potential of hard working aspiring Americans, and the benefit to protecting the unit of families like Sophie’s.

Sophie declared she has the right to be happy – and yes, she does.  It is the cornerstone of our American beliefs that every human being possesses by birth or by nature the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one may rightfully deny us these things. Nor, since they are “inalienable,” may we surrender them.

As a child with undocumented parents, Sophie believes the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants deserve immigration reform.  She also believes immigration reform is good for her country.  It is amazing this young five-year-old has a much better understanding of what is good for her country than our Presidential hopefuls vying for the spotlight during the debate a few weeks ago.

Her message is clear: we must as a nation act to reform our immigration laws, it is good for our children, it is good for our economy, and it is good for the future of our nation. The question still remains whether the clarity and innocence of this young child can bring us back to the hopeful days of 2013 when the two parties in the Senate put political differences aside and crafted a workable solution to our dysfunctional immigration system.  Can Sophie’s message reach the ears and open the hearts of our exclusionary leaders in the House who stalled the Senate bill? Will Speaker Boehner change his mind and push forward on immigration reform knowing that at the end of October his legacy as Speaker of the House will be set in stone?

So let’s take Sophie’s simple, concise, and constructive message to the halls of our government, to the streets of our communities, to the hearts of every American who believes in this great country that we and Sophie live in.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA First Vice President

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

What I Learned in Dilley

What I Learned in Dilley

Author: on 10/07/2015

shutterstock_70664173I spent a week volunteering as an immigration lawyer at the ICE family detention center in Dilley, Texas. It was a singular experience and I wanted to share some of what I learned.

The detention center in Dilley opened after the 2014 “surge” in immigrants from Central America crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without papers. Under U.S. law, immigrants who express a fear of returning to their home country can apply for asylum or other forms of protection. The women in Dilley generally have expressed such a fear of returning to their countries, and thus the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project team works in the detention center to help prepare the women for what is called a credible fear interview with the U.S. government. If an asylum officer determines after a woman’s credible fear interview that there is a significant possibility that the woman would succeed in her claim for asylum protection, the government should release her (and her children) so that she can apply for asylum. The mothers are mostly from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, with a few from Mexico. Many women from Guatemala may speak Spanish as a second language, with their first language being perhaps Akateko, Q’anjob’al, Mam, or another indigenous language.

The end result of most of the on-the-ground work done with the CARA project is preparing the women in Dilley (and sometimes their children) for the credible fear interview. It was important to speak patiently with the women so that they were comfortable enough to open up about their lives. We needed the women to trust us and take our advice. Nearly all women we saw actually did pass their credible fear interviews and eventually were or likely would be released (so that they could apply for asylum before an immigration judge). If released, women were usually released on an ankle monitor. Some however were deemed by the government not to have established a credible fear.  If they did not pass their credible fear interview, they would be allowed to contest that finding to an immigration judge. I was told that as a result of this review process and because of the legal counsel that CARA has offered, only on very rare occasions is someone deported. When I left, there were about 2,000 detained mothers and children.

Like the other volunteers, I was in Dilley from Sunday through Saturday. With the high number of credible fear interviews (CFI) scheduled, it’s impossible for volunteers to attend every single one. However, we are able to help prep many; on Thursday, a 23-year-old woman from Guatemala came to see me for her CFI preparation – I was able to find another case from California where the court had given asylum to a person in a similar situation – we printed up the case and highlighted the relevant portions for her to show the asylum officer.

Another woman, who failed her credible fear interview, had been subject to attacks and threats from multiple members of her family, and from her former partner’s family. Her brother had also been murdered by gangs. As a result, her social worker had diagnosed her with General Anxiety Disorder – she had a very difficult time opening up and sharing what she had been through. When I helped her at her immigration court hearing (in a separate court location in Dilley, with a judge from Miami appearing on video screen), we presented to the court her social worker’s report. She was also given another chance by the immigration judge to explain the other violence and threats to which she had been subjected. As a result, the judge agreed with us that she had a credible fear and vacated the asylum officer’s decision, and she was later released from Dilley to live with her sister in the U.S. and pursue her claim for protection in a U.S. immigration court.

Come Friday evening we bid farewell for probably the last time to the detention center. At the exit, I realized that I had forgotten my pass in the CARA volunteer room, for which I had traded in my driver’s license in the morning. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) staff, the private prison contractor running the Dilley facility, gave us a hard time about that – they wouldn’t let me have my license back, even though someone from CARA would be coming in the following morning and could simply return my pass then. The CCA employees simply would not let us have my ID back, they said because they didn’t know if it would be against policy. Fortunately, another CARA volunteer who would be staying longer traded in his own driver’s license for mine. Experiencing this logistical hurdle personally, as an attorney, gave me tremendous respect for the CARA staff who deal with providing services in this difficult environment, with constantly changing rules, on a daily basis.

Finally we were out and went to get food. Fellow CARA volunteers had brought a mother and her young son along, soon after they had been released. We all enjoyed the moment – freedom for everyone from what I had come to see as a toxic environment.

There’s a lot that is wrong with Dilley. Certainly the health considerations for detainees in Dilley are far from satisfactory. No one is dying, but if my own physical condition after five days is any indication, the CCA facility fosters debilitation and docility, perhaps deliberately. (I had become feverish and weak, though I very rarely get sick.) Women reported to us that they had waited five hours for their children to be seen by a doctor or nurse, and were told only to drink water.

Having now had some time to reflect on my experience in Dilley, I appreciate my freedom and health more. Whatever one’s views on those seeking refuge, it’s hard not to have at least an admiration for their courage and tenacity. They come from a world that is far removed from our comfortable existence in the U.S.

Written by Joseph Lavetsky, AILA Member and CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, 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 this fall, particularly the week of October 11 and after.

If you would like to donate funds please see the American Immigration Council’s page dedicated to the fundraising effort.

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.

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

Seeing the Forest for the Trees in the Immigration Debate

Seeing the Forest for the Trees in the Immigration Debate

Author: on 10/02/2015

shutterstock_229516540U.S. immigration law is a myriad of statutes, regulations, policies, memos, practices and procedures which span a wide variety of practice areas. The immigration debate playing out in the media is largely focused on the refugee, humanitarian, and family-based areas of immigration law. But this is only part of the picture. Immigration law also includes employment- and investment-based immigrants, seasonal/agricultural workers, the transfer and employment of high-skilled and professional workers, and short- and long-term visas for executives of global organizations, actors, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

This dichotomy of the perception of immigration law is not unique to the U.S. The Guardian recently examined this issue in the U.K., suggesting the main divide is whether someone is an expat or an immigrant; and concluded that the distinction is based on race. Looking at the issue in Hong Kong, a Wall Street Journal blog attributes the divide to differences in social class, country of origin, and economic status. In the U.S., the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, a comprehensive look at US immigration, which, probably most accurately, points to status in understanding this divide. Legal status, or more acutely, the lack of legal status limits opportunities of integration, access to social services, housing, education, and employment. The key difference in the perception of immigration may therefore be an effect of the cause –the lack of viable, realistic legal immigration options for U.S. families and employers.

This divide, and focus of national attention, has not gone unnoticed by the billionaire tech execs in Silicon Valley, where immigration isn’t just about securing the border, it’s about enabling U.S. employers to compete in a global economy. FWD.us, started by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, was established to tackle the lack of immigration options for U.S. employers and to urge Congress to pass sensible immigration legislation.

And the reasoning is simple: current immigration laws put U.S. employers at a major disadvantage when seeking to hire talent. While foreign-owned businesses may be able to utilize visas designed to facilitate intracompany transfers or to promote international trade and investment, U.S. employers are limited to the H-1B visa category. As a result of its ridiculously low, arbitrary cap, H-1B visas are allocated through a lottery system whereby U.S. employers must rely entirely on luck to determine whether a skilled employee may be hired. The work of Fwd.us and similar business-focused groups is critical to keeping the conversation about immigration informed, but if we are seeking a real change and improvement for U.S. employers, this focus too is limited.

The U.S. immigration system is filled with arbitrary limits, requirements, and processes that were often set more than a generation ago and have no basis or relevance to the realities of today’s business world. What is needed is a review and overhaul of our entire U.S. immigration system. Rather than focusing solely on the politically-charged sound bites on who should or should not be removed, the immigration conversation should focus on a full evaluation of all aspects of our laws, policies and practices, including employment-based immigration, family-based immigration, refugees, humanitarian relief, and visas to facilitate cultural enrichment, athletic competition, entertainment and the arts, investment, and innovation.

There is strength in numbers. Immigrants, migrants, businesses, and non-profits should band together and urge Congress to face reality. The above referenced NASEM report found that effects of a lack of legal status are so influential that they cut across race, sex, and age and are passed through generations with parents’ undocumented status in particular affecting the development of children, even when the children are U.S. citizens.

We’re hamstringing our economy and our nation. Our immigration laws unnecessarily limit options for families and employers. Narrow interpretations of the laws unnecessarily hamper businesses and make integration of those navigating the system difficult if not impossible. While a presidential candidate’s radical statements on limiting immigration may make headlines, the solution lies in a much deeper analysis. As we head further into campaign season for the 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections, it behooves all of us to keep the broader picture in mind.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Second Vice President

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

Another Tool in the Fight to End Family Detention

Another Tool in the Fight to End Family Detention

Author: on 09/30/2015

shutterstock_263204690This wasn’t the blog post that I planned on writing. I had intended to simply share some information about the release of the ABA Commission on Immigration’s report on family detention, and will. But I was interrupted in my writing by the immediacy of what’s happening on the ground (OTG) at the family detention centers in Texas.

“I was with Ana when we told her and she cried and cried” read the e-mail from David Kolko.  David, Immediate Past AILA Colorado Chapter Chair was writing about Ana, who had been at Artesia the week I arrived, over one year ago. She was finally, finally, being released from the permanent facility she’d been shipped to when Artesia was closed. She and her child joined eight other detainees who were being released from custody after spending between seven and fourteen months imprisoned. Their cases remain pending with the BIA.

It has been more than one year since a planeload of 179 women and children, who had no chance to secure legal counsel, were deported in the middle of the night from Artesia, and only one week less than that since the first pro bono lawyers arrived in Artesia. The first night of my arrival, Shelley Wittevrongel and I were handed a pink-post-it note by two young female lawyers who had toured the facility as part of an ICE-NGO group earlier that day, with the names and A#s of several women who furtively pleaded with them for help.  We arrived at the facility early the next morning, as Shelley assured was necessary, familiar with the additional delay we would face before getting to the trailer where we would be delayed again before being able to meet with any of the women.

The cover of the hardcopy published ABA Report has a photo provided by David. The photo depicts the Dilley parking lot at daybreak, eerily illuminated by parking lot floodlights. It is hauntingly similar to what many of us who went to Artesia, New Mexico observed early mornings en route to the temporary facility.  It is also stunningly similar to a photo I took the second night I was at Artesia last summer, when Shelley and I called in to report on what we were seeing and doing. We called from outside the hotel, seated on a curbstone, under a tall light pole that glowed dusty-yellow, in a parking lot filled with Haliburton and Sanford Oil trucks; the asphalt was still emitting the heat of the day at 10 PM. Flooded by the enormous gravity and portent of what was happening at Artesia, we needed to strategize the impossible: how could the  two of us OTG and the rest of our Colorado support crew (David Kolko, Lisa York, Katie Glynn and David Simmons) hold off any more removals until additional support from AILA National could arrive? It was the “Artesia Effect” sinking in, a phenomenon which Angie Williams later wrote about in an AILA blog. The Artesia Effect is something that all of us, whether volunteering at Artesia, Karnes, or Dilley, came to know deeply and intimately.  It is an internal connection that we all share, that can be conveyed by a glance that becomes a gaze, held for a fraction of a second longer than usual, and is both uncomfortable and empathic as we share the knowledge we will never forget:  that Artesia, as with Dilley and Karnes, remotely located, is not American.

The ABA report emphasizes the complete lack of planning and preparedness of the U.S. government, which is wholly inconsistent with the mission of DHS, in responding to the increase in arrivals of Central American mothers and children during the summer of 2014. It highlights the government’s whipsaw response to the hopeful and innocent fleeing unrelenting violence and danger to reach our southwestern border in pursuit of the safety that our country promises and promotes as uniquely American. It clearly lays out the violation of the presumption of liberty foundational to the apparatus of due process which was designed with such commitment and care for the safety of us all. Underneath it all is the profound betrayal of not only those who look to our system of law for protection, but of the system itself and of we, the lawyers, who threw ourselves into an unprecedented pro bono response;  the only response possible to the government’s rapid and massive shift in policy on family apprehension and detention. And through it all is the egregiousness of the government’s failure to recognize the established legal framework, its failure to calibrate its response to a shift in circumstances, and its failure to adhere to any set of guiding principles.

There is crushing irony in the fact that on August 6, 2009, ICE announced that it would stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, a 512 bed for-profit detention center run by the Corrections Corporation of America,  and that plans for three other family camps would be abandoned,. With this decision, it appeared thatthe Obama administration was differentiating itself from the Bush administration’s hardline enforcement and family detention policies. The federal court presiding over the lawsuit on conditions at Hutto stated, “it seems fundamentally wrong to house children and their non-criminal parents this way. We can do better.”  Who would have thought then that nearly eight years later, family detention would be back with a vengeance and that we would be “celebrating” the release of a mother and child, who while simply seeking protection and safety under our laws were instead subjected to nearly fourteen months of incarceration?

The ABA report is one tool that we can use to fight back against the scourge of family detention, to push against the inhumane treatment of children and mothers, and to lift up their stories to the media, to the Administration, and to the public. We need to use every resource at our disposal to #EndFamilyDetention. The ABA Commission on Immigration is particularly grateful to AILA for its delivery of OTG pro bono representation to the family detention camps and for its leadership in working to end family detention.

Written by Christina Fiflis, 2012-2015 Chair of the ABA Commission on Immigration, AILA Member, and Artesia Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, 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 this fall, particularly the week of October 11 and after.

If you would like to donate funds to help staff the project through the end of the year, we thank you in advance, and please see the American Immigration Council’s page dedicated to the fundraising effort.

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.

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

One of Millions

One of Millions

Author: on 09/29/2015

shutterstock_244966882As an immigration attorney, I hear the life stories of immigrants from all over the world. I hear about the mothers, fathers, siblings, and children left behind; I hear about the choices people have made and the relationships that have flourished and failed. It’s a never-ending stream of sadness, hope, anger, and excitement. It’s the reason I became and remain an immigration lawyer.

One story, though, has become emblematic to me of the desperate need for reform.

My client is from Jamaica and was born deaf. She arrived in the U.S. in 1991 as a teenager and made her life here. She was married for many years to a United States citizen husband and had three children with him, but he never filed a petition for her to adjust her status. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic and my client eventually separated from him. Now, she is living on her own with her children as best she can, sometimes depending on the generosity of relatives to take her and her children in. But her relatives don’t know sign language and she does not read lips well, so she is often left alone in the world.

She finally came into my office seeing what, if anything, could be done for her. As a result of her marriage and the abuse she suffered, she is eligible for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and could eventually become a permanent resident. But the process can take a very long time and in the meantime, she remains in limbo. The Deferred Action program the President announced last year is still blocked by the courts so there is nothing to offer her right now. Even if the program is allowed to move forward, it would just be a temporary stopgap. But at least it would lend her some protection and freedom from fear.

Try and imagine what it is like for her on a day-to-day basis as she raises her young children, helps them navigate life, and tries to make sure they have a chance at success. Imagine that on top of the all-too-common fears of an undocumented mom, that the world is silent to you and that you cannot communicate the simplest things without great difficulty. Think of how terrifying everyday life would be.

This is why it is so important that Congress do something impactful when it comes to immigration reform. There are good people out there, doing their best to keep their families together despite the challenges they face, who are a hairsbreadth away from detention and removal. When will they feel a sense of security? When will their children finally be comforted with the knowledge that their families will remain united and will not be torn apart? When will Congress act?

Shared with my client’s permission. Her name has been left out to ensure her privacy.

Written by Robert Pures, AILA Member

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

When Our Government Operates in Its Own Flawed Reality, the Most Vulnerable Suffer

When Our Government Operates in Its Own Flawed Reality, the Most Vulnerable Suffer

Author: on 09/28/2015

shutterstock_244072684On July 24, a federal court in California ruled that the Obama Administration’s policy of detaining mothers and children violated the 1997 Flores Agreement. In a 25-page ruling, Judge Dolly Gee noted she found it “astonishing” that immigration authorities had adopted a policy requiring such an expensive infrastructure without more evidence that it would be compliant with the agreement.

What is more astonishing is the government’s argument that detention was necessary as a deterrent for migrants – a policy reflecting complete disregard and understanding of the despair felt by those who flee for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  Judge Gee disagreed and ordered the government to comply with the Flores Agreement.

The government now has filed an appeal to the July ruling, and while it is still unclear what legal arguments the government will set forth in their appeal, Secretary Johnson made it clear that the government disagrees “with portions of the legal reasoning in the decision.”  Let’s look at some of the government’s past arguments.


Back in February, the government argued that the Flores agreement does not apply to children accompanied by their parents.   In its ruling, the Court concentrated on whether the definition of “minors” in the agreement encompasses “accompanied minors” and concluded that it does: “Because the plain language of the Agreement is clear that accompanied minors are part of the class, the inquiry can end here.”   The ruling further states: “just because the Agreement does not explicitly provide for the release of parents and legal guardians or address the rights of adult detainees does not mean that the Agreement does not apply to accompanied minors.”

The line of reasoning the government chose to show the Agreement should not cover accompanied children ignores the agony of a dangerous journey that these mothers  have embarked upon to save their children’s lives.  Instead, the government argued in February that release of all accompanied children and their parents “incentivizes such families to make the dangerous journey to this country.” And that “[adults] looking to smuggle children would effectively be rewarded for having children accompany them.”

Do these mothers really have a choice?   If the child remains at home, violence and death are not only highly probable but in many cases certain.  If the mother sends her child abroad alone, the perils of the journey are life-threatening.  Finally, if the mother accompanies the child, together they will face incarceration in a U.S. detention facility, where the child’s health and well-being are also at risk.

The government’s position that “unaccompanied children” deserve more protection than “accompanied children” is not only flawed, but illogical.  Why should children who reach our borders deserve less protection simply because they are accompanied by a parent?

Another argument the government made in February was that recent circumstances, including the surge of migrant mothers and children, have changed so greatly that the government couldn’t comply with the Flores Agreement and also protect public safety.  The reality is these mothers and children have left their gang-infested and violence-ridden countries seeking refuge. There is no evidence that any of these mothers and children would be a threat to public safety – they are trying to find peace.

Right now, an estimated 2,450 mothers and children are held at three family detention facilities, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.  The Administration’s policy of family detention is cruel.  Refugees deserve an opportunity to see a light at the end of a very dark tunnel of fear and despair.  Detention exacerbates their condition and wounds their spirit.  It is time to #EndFamilyDetention.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA First Vice President

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If you are an AILA member, law student, paralegal, or translator, 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 this fall, particularly the week of October 11 and after.

If you would like to donate funds to help staff the project through the end of the year, we thank you in advance, and please see the American Immigration Council’s page dedicated to the fundraising effort.

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.

Source: AILA Leadership Blog

More Than a Label

More Than a Label

Author: on 09/25/2015

MoreThanALabel LogoThis blog post was written in response to the questions raised by the SocialWork@Simmons #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort to highlight how immigrants are currently combating labels and stigmas and what can be done to promote immigrant pride.

My name is Victor Nieblas Pradis, and in June I became the first Mexican-American President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in AILA’s 69 years of existence.

Decades ago, proudly claiming to be Mexican-American might have led to slurs or denigration in this country, but times have thankfully changed.

As I shared in my first speech as AILA President, I was two years old when we settled across the “linea,” or border, of Mexico in Calexico, California. For me and my four siblings, immigration issues were a part of our experience and reality. The international border was only eight blocks from my home and the local border patrol station was only two. My next-door neighbor was a border patrol agent and across the street lived a ranking member of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

My upbringing exposed me to the good and bad of the immigrant experience and process along the Southwestern border of the United States. My childhood included the challenges faced by border residents. We experienced the entry of commerce and trade across our border. We experienced the long lines at the port of entry when we visited family across the border, including the regular “secondary inspection” stops that we became accustomed to.

We experienced the now common phrase, “driving while brown.” Anywhere you drove, jogged, fished, or rode your bicycle outside of the city limits, or adventured in the beloved desert nature walks, you had to expect the border patrol to stop you after triggering their hidden sensors and inquire about your legal status in the United States. This continues to be the reality for border communities.

Racial profiling and excessive use of fatal force does not just happen in U.S. cities; we also see it along the border regions. For years, policing concerns have arisen with the U.S. Border Patrol. But, whether racial profiling is used to justify the bad treatment of legal visas holders as they enter our country, or used to unjustly stop and harass many individuals while they travel 100 miles from any U.S. border, these acts must be challenged and brought to an end.

When I started my term as AILA President, I set out a list of goals. One of them is to continue to urge Congress to do its job and send the President a commonsense bill that will bring America’s immigration policy into the 21st century; a policy that will keep our borders secure, our families safe and together, and maintain America’s global economic competitiveness.

I am proud of my cultural background – grateful to my native Mexico, and proud of the United States of America where I have raised my family and become a citizen. I refuse to allow anyone else to limit who and what I can be. I embrace my heritage and my future. I, like all immigrants and their families, am #MoreThanALabel.

Source: AILA Leadership Blog