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Scenes From the Immigration Bar: Happy October!

3 Oct

Happy October!

Video Journal from Artesia

14 Sep

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

Journey to Artesia

7 Sep

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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.

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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…

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What Might Executive Action on Immigration Look Like?

26 Aug

As Facebook is crowded with pictures of kids going back to school, we must face the inevitable end of summer.  However, for immigrants, it is possible that the end of summer will bring long-awaited administrative relief from the Obama administration.  In June, President Obama went to the Rose Garden to state that, in the absence of legislation from Congress, he was going to use his executive power to address the harshness of U.S. immigration laws.  He stated that he instructed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to present recommendations for changes that the administration could make to existing interpretations of immigration law that would ameliorate the inhumane consequences of current immigration policy.  The Secretary was instructed to produce his recommendations and plan by the end of summer.  With the President returning from vacation soon and the traditional end of summer holiday of Labor Day approaching, expectations are sky high that the President will announce meaningful administrative actions in the coming weeks.  Washington is awash in rumors, speculation, leaks, and hopes as to what the nature of immigration relief might look like.  In this blog, we take a look at some of the common possibilities that keep popping up in reports.  We have written in the past about steps that the President could take to make U.S. immigration laws less harsh.  This post is about those measures that have been commonly reported in the media.

  • Parole-in-place.  This would be the most ambitious use of presidential authority.
    • WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act gives the administration the ability to parole any immigrant into the U.S. if the administration determines that it would be in the national interest.  Ordinarily, parole is granted to allow someone to enter the U.S. from abroad.  However, parole-in-place is a mechanism to parole those already in the U.S. who have not been admitted, such as those who entered unlawfully.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO:  By paroling those who entered illegally, parole-in-place would have the effect of making them eligible for adjustment of status to permanent residence based upon the petition of an immediate relative, such as a U.S. citizen spouse or a child over 21.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: Those who entered unlawfully and have close U.S. citizen family ties.  This could be more expansive than those who can benefit from the provisional waiver as the provisional waiver is not available to those who are inadmissible on criminal grounds or fraud grounds.  Conceivably, parole in place would allow immigrants to seek adjustment of status with the opportunity to apply for all of the waivers that are available to other adjustment applicants.
  • Deferred Action.   Conventional wisdom is that the President will utilize the deferred action method used for young people in 2012 which would provide no stable or durable status, but would provide a reprieve from removal and the ability to obtain employment authorization.
      • WHAT IT IS: in June 2012, the President created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which formalized a policy that the government was not interested in seeking the removal of young people who entered as children, stayed in school, and, generally, avoided trouble.  The President could expand the Deferred Action program to include other favored groups, such as the parents of U.S. citizen or the parents of DACA recipients.
      • WHAT IT WOULD DO: By granting deferred action, the administration would be formally recognizing that the individual is not a priority for removal and would not be sought for removal.  Deferred action comes with work permits, allowing individuals to live without fear of removal, to work legally, obtain social security numbers and driver’s licenses.
      • WHO IT WOULD HELP: This is hard to say.  The administration could create a class of individuals who would qualify for expanded deferred action.  There is general legal consensus that he may not grant deferred action to all undocumented individuals. Commonly discussed potential classes include the parents of U.S. citizens and the parents of DACA grantees.  Another broad class would be deferred action for those immigrants who would benefit under the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013.   It is likely that, like DACA, any deferred action grant would have eligibility requirements relating to length of time in the U.S, work history, an the lack of a criminal record.Deferred Action.  The President could simply expand Deferred Action beyond the DREAMers.  He could identify classes of individuals who the administration identifies as low priorities for removal from the U.S.
  • Recapture of visa numbers.  This is among proposals favored by the business community.  It would not necessarily apply to individuals without status, but would help fix the extraordinary backlog in employment-based visas.  Some individuals do fall out of status waiting for their spot in the backlog to become available to them.
    • WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act makes a limited number of visas (green cards) available every year and divides them among various categories.  Sometimes, because of the way the visas are allocated, many of those visas go unused every year.  This contributes to horrendous backlogs that hurt employers’ ability to retain key personnel.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO: By changing the way visas are counted and allocated, this change would shorten lines for visas in the employment-based categories, shortening the time it takes for a foreign employee to obtain residence.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: Employment-based immigrants, their families, and their employers.  Reduction in the amount of time necessary to sponsor an immigrant through work could help many people who could seek residence through employment and fall out of status while waiting in the backlog.
  • Work authorization for H-4 Visa Holders.  This is another of the priorities for the business community.
    • WHAT IT IS: Individuals admitted in H-4 status are the spouses and children under 21 of H-1B visa holders, who may enter the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer in a professional capacity for up to six years.  Under current law, an individual admitted into the U.S. in H-4 status is not allowed to accept employment in the U.S.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO: Administrative change could make H-4 visa holders eligible to apply for employment authorization.  Since the Immigration & nationality Act does not prohibit such employment authorization, regulatory change could create a category to allow H-4s to work.  There is precedent for this as changes to the law allowed L-2 visa holders, the spouse and children under 21 of L-1 intracompany transferees to obtain employment authorization.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: The spouses and children of H-1B visa holders and their families.  Businesses want this change because international candidates sometimes turn down offers to work in the U.S. because their spouse can not work.

Executive action seems all but assured.  The questions is not “if,” but “exactly what” and “when.”  The President has waited far too long to take this actions.  Millions have suffered in a cynical attempt to pacify the House GOP and enforcement-lust.  The President has returned from vacation and it is time for everyone to get back to the important work of addressing the colossal failure of U.S. immigration law and the even more contemptible failure of Congress to deal with it.

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Scenes from the Immigration Bar: Wonder Woman, can I borrow your lasso?

5 Aug

Lasso of truth

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Scenes from the Immigration Bar: “I hope this isn’t offensive…”

23 Jul

I hope this isn't offensive

DACA Renewals Begin!

5 Jun

 

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On June 5, 2014, the renewal process for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals starts for more than half-million DREAMERs who are already enrolled in the program. DREAMERs or DACA beneficiaries will continue to benefit from renewing driver’s licenses, working, and obtaining in-state tuition in at least 16 states.

To renew DACA, applicants must complete the recently released dual-use Form I-821D for initial and renewal DACA applications. Additionally, forms I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and I-765 Worksheet must be submitted, along with a $465 filing fee check or money order.

Renewal applicants are only required to submit new documents pertaining to criminal or removal proceedings history that have not already been submitted to USCIS.  Renewal applicants do not have to demonstrate initial eligibility all over again and must only provide updated information where information has changed.

Initial applications remain available for new applicants who meet all of the following requirements listed on the June 15, 2012 Napolitano memorandum:
• Entered the United States under the age of 16;
• Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012;
• Were present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012;
• Were not in lawful status on June 15, 2012;
• Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
• Are currently in school, has graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and
• Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to the national security of public safety.

To avoid a lapse in employment, DACA renewal applications should be submitted 120-150 days prior to their DACA expiration date.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.