Archive | September, 2014

Video Journal from Artesia

14 Sep

  IMG_1539

(Water tower in the remote town of Artesia, NM)

I have recently returned from my trip to the detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, after 5 days of pro bono legal work on behalf of the refugee women and children detained there. After five 20-hour work days and personally experiencing all of the awful and heartbreaking things that I saw, I have returned exhausted and emotionally drained, but also inspired by the strength of these refugees and the dedication of my fellow volunteers.

I wanted to share with you the video journal that a fellow volunteer and Friend of Benach Ragland (“FOBR”), Sandra Grossman, and I put together in an attempt to shed light on what is happening there and to encourage other immigration lawyers to make the trek to Artesia to do some pro bono work for these women and children. Our Day 1 Video discusses our journey to Artesia (an oil town in the middle of a desert), our introduction to the pro bono program that has been established by the volunteers before us, and our expectations for our pro bono work there.

IMG_1526 IMG_1530

(Scenes from the road to Artesia, New Mexico)

Our Day 2 Video describes what it is like to see children as “inmates” in a detention center, the illnesses from which they suffer and the lack of adequate medical care, and the horrific stories they are exposed to on a daily basis.

IMG_1552 IMG_1551

(My notes from my client’s bond hearing, showing what it is like to have a

four-year-old boy sit next to you while his mother recounts horrific violence

– doodles amongst my cross-examination notes and a “regalito” (little gift)

he made for me out of a dry cleaning receipt he had found on the ground)

Our Day 3 Video discusses the logistics of volunteering in Artesia, what the detention conditions are like, what it is like to be a volunteer in Artesia, and some of the many due process violations that are occurring on a regular basis in Artesia at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, where these women and children are detained, including lack of access to interpreters and legal counsel.

IMG_1535  IMG_1537  IMG_1556

(The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center entrance; in the distance,

the trailers where the pro bono attorneys meet with their clients and represent them before Immigration Judges;

and attorney visitor badge requiring ICE escort at all times)

Our Day 4 Video depicts the heart-wrenching circumstances and seemingly impossible challenges that these women and their children are facing from jail in the middle of the desert in Artesia, New Mexico.  Finally, our Day 5 Video introduces you to some of the other pro bono attorneys volunteering their time and energy on behalf of the women and children in Artesia.  The volunteers describe what inspired them to come to Artesia and what it has been like for them on the ground.

IMG_1538

(AILA volunteers discuss macro and micro level legal

strategies for representing their detained clients in Artesia)

I think the videos show the progression of emotions for the volunteers there, and they highlight the lack of human dignity and lack of due process in Artesia. What is happening there is a tragedy and is fundamentally un-American. The government’s attempt to conceal this embarrassment in the middle of a barren desert is shameful. Please share these videos on your own social media and with your family and friends to help spread the word about this travesty that will surely be seen as a dark mark on American history.

What else can you do? Please call your Senators and Representatives to implore them to shut down Artesia.  If you are an immigration attorney, please go to Artesia to volunteer, help remotely with bond and I-589 filings, donate office supplies, or donate funds (tax-deductible) to help alleviate the financial burden on those immigration attorneys who are taking time off of their practices and traveling to Artesia to volunteer.

ICE Called Him a Terrorist. We Said He’s Not. We Won.

9 Sep

Ragland and Hamid

Our Client of the Month for September 2014 is Abdul Hamid. On July 31, 2014, Mr. Hamid walked out of the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia and tasted freedom for the first time in more than 15 months. Stewart, an immigration detention center brought to you by the friendly folks at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), is straight out of George Orwell. Along with the high fences and rolls of concertina wire are guards in crisp blue uniforms and inspirational posters on the walls lauding the CCA’s role in “serving America’s detention needs” and “leading the way in quality correctional care.” Not making this up. But call it “detention” or “custody” or “quality correctional care” all you want. The grim reality is that this place is a prison, situated in a truly godforsaken corner of Georgia more than a 3-hour drive from Atlanta, just far enough to make it very tough for lawyers or family members to visit on a regular basis. Stewart issues color-coded jumpsuits to its residents – red being reserved for the most dangerous inmates, violent offenders, and gang members. Mr. Hamid, a soft-spoken 61-year-old Pakistani gentleman who has lived with his family in the United States for the past 14 years, was made to wear red.Stewart

Mr. Hamid has never been arrested, charged, or convicted of any crime – in the U.S. or elsewhere. He fled Pakistan in 2000 to escape extortion and death threats from a group of thugs associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami political party. When he appeared before an Immigration Judge (IJ) in Atlanta in April 2013, Mr. Hamid applied for permanent residence – a green card – based on an approved visa petition filed by his adult U.S. citizen son. But then his case took an unusual turn. The lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) argued that Mr. Hamid’s actions in Pakistan in 1998-99, when he was assailed by representatives of Jamaat-e-Islami and forced on threat of death to pay a “jaga tax,” amounted to material support for terrorism – rendering him ineligible for a green card, deportable from the U.S. with no relief, and subject to mandatory detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to DHS, certain “evidence” (obtained primarily through internet searches) demonstrated a link between Jamaat-e-Islami – a fundamentalist political party in Pakistan – and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen – a militant group fighting to establish an independent Islamic state in Kashmir, India. The IJ agreed, ordered Mr. Hamid deported, and ICE agents immediately took him into custody and transported him from the court to his new digs at the Stewart Detention Center. Mr. Hamid and his family were stunned and distraught, unsure what had happened or how to correct such a grievous error.

Within days, Mr. Hamid’s son, Nadeem Sheikh, drove from Atlanta to Washington, DC to consult with Thomas Ragland about how to overcome the IJ’s decision and secure his father’s release. Ragland took the case and immediately began preparing an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The appeal contended that the IJ had committed a number of errors, including finding that the evidence presented by DHS established a “subgroup” relationship between Jamaat-e-Islami (the political party) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (the terrorist group). We argued that DHS and the IJ had failed to distinguish between the various different organizations that exist under the Jamaat-e-Islami banner – in Pakistan, in India, in Bangladesh, and in Sri Lanka – or to recognize that these disparate groups operate independently of one another. We argued further that even if the evidence did establish a subgroup relationship, Mr. Hamid fell within the “knowledge” exception to the material support bar – because he did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that money he paid under duress to the Jamaat-e-Islami thugs in Lahore, Pakistan might be used to support violent activities by an entirely different group, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, in Kashmir, India. A few days before Halloween 2013, and more than six months after Mr. Hamid began his tenure at Stewart, the BIA agreed and remanded the case to the Atlanta Immigration Court for further proceedings.

In the months that followed, Ragland traveled to Atlanta for half a dozen more hearings in Mr. Hamid’s case. The proceedings were repeatedly delayed by confusion over which IJ should be assigned, by the disqualification of two successive court-appointed Urdu interpreters, by a federal government shutdown, and by a system-wide crash of the Immigration Court’s computer system. Meanwhile, Mr. Hamid stoically endured his imprisonment and the indignity of being transported from Lumpkin to Atlanta in chains and leg irons, being handcuffed throughout his court hearings, and being repeatedly vilified by DHS counsel as an untruthful witness and a supporter of terrorism. Mr. Hamid’s entire family – his wife, his sons and daughters and their families, his grandchildren – attended each and every hearing to demonstrate their tireless support and unwavering belief in his innocence of the government’s charges.

In addition to extensive background research, numerous written briefs, and hours of in-court testimony, we deployed a secret weapon that proved crucial to our defense of Mr. Hamid. Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Husain Haqqani, is husain_haqqaniamong the world’s foremost authorities on the politics, history, and economy of Pakistan. He has advised four presidents, held various high-level posts over a long and distinguished diplomatic career, and recently authored a best-selling book entitled Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding. More importantly, he is a long-time client of Benach Ragland. Ambassador Haqqani volunteered to serve as an expert witness in Mr. Hamid’s case, free of charge, authored a lengthy written opinion and flew to Atlanta to testify in Immigration Court. In off-the-record comments after the hearing, the IJ remarked that he was “very impressed” by our expert, and the DHS attorney griped that we had brought in a “million dollar witness.” Faced with great injustice and overwhelming odds, good lawyers must do what it takes to win the day.

Ultimately, the IJ was persuaded by our arguments and evidence, rejected the government’s contentions, and ruled in Mr. Hamid’s favor. Reversing his prior ruling, he found that the evidence failed to demonstrate a subgroup relationship between Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. After 15 months in prison, thousands of dollars in legal fees, and the traumatizing prospect of being deported to a country he had fled in fear for his life, Mr. Hamid was granted permanent residence and allowed to return home to his family. Justice delayed, but not denied. Our heartfelt congratulations to a very deserving client.

Journey to Artesia

7 Sep

fr3404

Tomorrow I will be heading to Artesia, New Mexico – unfortunately not to tour the beautiful Southwest, but rather, to address the smothering of due process at the remote Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which has been converted into a detention center for women and children who have fled horrific violence and danger in Central America. In Artesia, women and children are being detained at length in inhumane conditions, intimidated and coerced by immigration officers, refused a chance for a fair hearing and access to counsel, hurled through a removal process with predetermined results, and ultimately, being sent directly and expeditiously back to the danger from which they fled – all in violation of U.S. legal obligations under existing domestic and international law.

fletc-300x225

Evidence from the ground in Artesia has shown that the conditions there make it virtually impossible for these refugee women and children to consult with their attorneys, access legal help, obtain notice of their hearings, and meaningfully prepare their claims for asylum or other defenses to deportation. To provide an example, a significant percentage of the women at Artesia are victims of extreme violence, death threats, rape and domestic violence, and other forms of persecution. Rather than a confidential screening with an immigration officer, these women are being forced to answer traumatic questions, including detailed descriptions of rape, while their children are present. Not only are these women met with hostility and inhumanity by the procedures in place, but also by the officers who are detaining them, calling them degrading names like “cerdos” (pigs), refusing their children medical treatment, screaming at them for asking to speak to their attorneys, and forcing them to sit in their own filth for hours. This treatment and this purposeful disregard of our current laws and procedures for processing those who have fled persecution and torture in search of safety and protection in the United States makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. This is not the America I know and love.

This is why I am heading to the remote detention center in Artesia, New Mexico (via flights from DC to Dallas to El Paso, followed by a four-hour drive through the desert). There, I will be volunteering a week of my time to counsel and represent these mothers and children, in the hope of restoring a little bit of humanity to our system and shedding a little bit of light on this dark place. As an immigration attorney who focuses my practice on representing refugees and asylum-seekers, who speaks Spanish, and who has years of experience representing individuals who have fled Central America due to the unfettered violence that is often met with impunity by those countries’ governments, I did not feel that I had a choice in the matter. Moreover, as an attorney, justice and the rule of law are two principles that are so central to the foundation of my belief system and my work that I feel compelled to do my part to restore these values in Artesia. These ideals, in addition to these women and children, need an advocate. We should not be sacrificing fundamental fairness for political posturing and valuing expediency over justice, especially in matters of life or death.

Stay tuned for updates from the ground…

Artesia1

Image

Scenes from the Immigration Bar: Never Too Cool for School

4 Sep

Back to School