Tag Archives: benach ragland

Visit the new BenachRagland.com!

13 Feb

newwebsite

This is the last post that will appear on Lifted Lamp.  Over the past six months, Benach Ragland has designed, developed and launched a new website.  The new website integrates this blog into Benach Ragland allowing for all the information we publish to be available in one place.  If you are a subscriber to this blog and wish to continue to receive email notification of posts, you can sign up here.

Please take some time to visit our new website.  We are very proud of the new site and fpartnerseel that it accurately conveys who we are, what we do, and how we can serve our clients in the community.  On the site, please take some time to watch the video about our client, Abel Rodriguez.  Also, you can meet our newest associate, Elanie Cintron and learn about her deep involvement in the fight over family detention in Artesia.  You can also learn about our February Client of the Month, an incredibly resilient and inspiring young woman.  Plus, you can meet and learn more about all those people you may only know over the phone and email, like Liana, Sandra, Satsita, Mariela and Hanif.  Finally, you can learn the latest details on the President’s executive action to help the parents of U.S. citizens and young people.

We would like to thank the talented and friendly team at Llewellyn Creative who brought their artistry and passion to creating our site.

We will continue to blog sharing our thoughts on the latest immigration news and providing useful and educational materials to the community we serve through the blog on our own website.  We hope to see you there!

BR Has Another New Lawyer!

5 Feb

We are thrilled to welcome and announce the newest addition to our BR family, Elanie Cintron. Elanie has joined us in DC as an associate attorney from North Carolina by way of Brooklyn, New York (where she received countless awards and honors as a law student at Hofstra University, including the prestigious Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Fellowship) and Denver, Colorado (where she immediately set herself apart as a rising star in the immigration field as an associate attorney with powerhouse firm Lichter Immigration).

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(Elanie with her asylum clients from Honduras)

As the child of two U.S. military service members, Elanie learned from her parents a sense of duty and service to our country. Rather than defending our country through military service, however, Elanie has dedicated herself and her career to defending the American ideals of justice and equality as a true advocate for vulnerable populations. Most recently, Elanie completed about six “tours of duty” volunteering at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico as part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s pro bono project.

IMG_1535  image1  In Artesia, Elanie represented detained women and children refugees seeking protection from the domestic and gang violence they had fled in Central America. It is in that setting in which BR Partner Dree Collopy met Elanie and was immediately impressed by her skills as an attorney and passion as an advocate for justice. Through her work in Artesia, Elanie won asylum for a woman and her young son from Honduras, who had fled years of horrific domestic violence. Applying her client’s compelling story to the legal minefield of gender-based and particular social group asylum claims, Elanie convinced an immigration judge that her client and her client’s young son merited protection in this country. Upon being granted asylum, Elanie’s clients were released from the horrific conditions in Artesia, the Obama Administration’s detention center that has now been shut down in shame. Living freely and safely in the United States, Elanie’s clients still send her nearly-daily messages of gratitude for her selfless devotion to their cause.

It is this kind of attorney that we at BR seek out to join us in our shared mission. Elanie, welcome to our family! Fig too, of course.

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(Elanie’s dog, Fig)

Welcome Back Rachael and Satsita!

6 May

Last week, Benach Ragland began to feel normal again as attorney Rachael Petterson returned from maternity leave and Satsita Muradova joined the firm.  It is really nice to have old friends close.

Rachael has beeMae 2n on leave since late January when baby Mae Bozelli decided to make her appearance nearly two months early.  Of course, earlier that week, we had just started our discussions about handling Rachael’s cases when she went on leave in April!  Mae gave Rachael and all of us a very real reminder that nature does what it wants regardless of our schedule.  Rachael and her husband, Joe, were delighted to welcome this little girl, who faced a number of challenges due to being born early.  Mae was able to go home just a couple of weeks ago and we can not wait to welcome her to Benach Ragland.  The BR Kid Crew, previously numbered at 7, is also beyond excited for a new playmate.  All of us know how difficult it is for a young mother to leave her baby home as she returns to work.  A week in, however, and Rachael has not missed a beat.

We are also happy to announce that Satsita Muradova has joined the firm as a Senior Paralegal.  This is also another homecoming.  Satsita began her career in U.S. immigration law with Andres BeSatsitanach nearly a decade ago.  A lawyer in her native Chechnya, Satsita brought some of the first human rights cases against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights for atrocities in the Chechen wars.  As too many people have learned, there is a price to pay for standing up to Moscow and Satsita decided that she was no longer safe in the former Soviet Union and obtained protection in the U.S.   Years later, she helped one of Andres’ clients, a young Russian man seek asylum because he refused to join the Russian army because he did not want to participate in human rights violations in Chechnya.  In supporting the claim, we relied upon the cases that Satsita filed in the European Court of Human Rights to document the atrocities.  Satsita continued her career as an immigration paralegal with Dree Collopy and when Andres, Thomas and Dree reunited at Benach Ragland, it was only natural that one day Satsita would rejoin them in practice.

We know that these additions will help us continue to serve our clients better and will reinforce the sense of family and community that we have tried to build in our offices.  We know that a happy workplace is a key ingredient to serving our clients better and we just got a whole lot happier here to have our friends with us again.

Cancellation Victory (well, sort of)

22 Apr

A couple of months ago, I got to enjoy my fifteen minutes of fame when my client became the poster child for problems caused for immigrants in immigration court by the government shutdown.  I wrote a blog piece, wrote another for the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association and, next thing I know, I am speaking to Robert Siegel of NPR’s All Things Considered and people I have not heard from in decades called me to say they heard me on the radio.  But, eventually, my fame wore off and I still had to fix this young woman’s situation.

what-up-with-that

As way of background, my client, a 21 year old college junior who has been here since she was four years old, applied for cancellation of removal from the Immigration Judge.  Cancellation is available to an individual who has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for at least ten years, possesses good moral character and whose removal would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent or child.  Congress has decided that only 4000 cancellation cases should be granted every year.  For many years, the 4000 quota was enough for the entire country.  However, as the Obama administration put many more people into removal proceedings, more people applied.  And guess what?  Given a day in court, more people were able to convince judges that they were good people with longstanding ties to the U.S. and deporting them would cause their families tremendous hardship.  By December 2012, the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge announced that they had run out of cancellation visas for the entire fiscal year, which had started barely two months earlier.  My client had a hearing in December 2012, in which she was informed by the Judge that there were no more cancellation grants available and the case would need to be continued.  The case was reset until October 2013.  The irony at that time was that she had originally been scheduled in October 2012, when cancellation numbers were available, but had to be rescheduled when the court was shut down due to flooding in lower Manhattan as a result of Hurricane Sandy.10155981_741506099222830_2694746367904436600_n

Fast forward to October 2013 and the government shutdown cancels her latest hearing.  The New York, upon reopening, quickly sent out a hearing notice for March 30.  However, on March 28, the court called me to inform me that the case would need to be rescheduled because the judge had been selected for jury duty!  We were rescheduled for April 18 at 2:00 PM, a date that greatly concerned me as it was Good Friday.  Sure enough, the court called the day before and asked us to come in earlier, which we happily did.  At the hearing, the government informed the court that it agreed with our request to grant our client cancellation of removal.  It took all of fifteen minutes.  The Judge was glad to do so, but explained that there are no cancellation numbers and that my client would be placed in the queue based upon the date and time of her case and would be notified when a number became available to her.  The case could not be “granted” until then.  So, my client, while relieved that she will ultimately be granted, remains in a precarious limbo by another absurd anomaly of our immigration laws- that only 4000 of these may be granted in a given year.  Who knows where Congress got that number?

Here's where Congress got the 4000 number!

Here’s where Congress got the 4000 number!

My client is just one of millions of people left in a state of limbo by Congress’ inability to address the crisis of immigration law.  In this case, my client has DACA and I probably could have gotten the removal case dismissed.  The government stipulated to relief, meaning she would get her green card.  It is hard to say that, in this one case, the problem is the administration.  Like all other arbitrary caps and quotas, such as the H-1B cap, the former cap on asylee adjustment, and caps on immigrant visas, Congress needs to act.

Congratulations to the National Center for Transgender Equality: Let’s Hope ENDA Does Better than CIR!

13 Nov

Our moment

Last night, Jen Cook and I went to the National Council for Transgender Equality’s  (NCTE) 10th Anniversary event.  The evening was themed “Our Moment,” reflecting the organization’s intention to build upon the successes of the gay rights movement in the past year, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Windsor decision, and the many states that have enacted gay marriage.  In fact, even as the party went on, the festivities were interrupted to announce that Hawaii became the 16th state to allow for gay marriage.  As acceptance of full rights for gays and lesbians has grown tremendously over the past few years, acceptance of the essential humanity of the transgendered has not moved as quickly.  There have been victories- the Affordable Care Act provides increased access to needed medical services to transgender individuals, transgender individuals such as Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Lana Wachowski have upped awareness of trans issues in our culture.  Even Chelsea Manning has forced us to confront the dilemmas facing trans people in the military and in prison.

There was palpable excitement in the room last night.  Last week the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal nationwide to fire or discriminate in employment issues against someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Employment discrimination against trans individuals is a serious problem, with 90 percent of trans individuals reporting that they suffered some form of employment discrimination in their lives.  The Senate ENDA bill is termed “trans-inclusive,” because it has expressly included discrimination protections for transgender individuals, whereas previous incarnations had sacrificed the “T” in GLBT as protections for trans individuals were just a bridge too far for some.  But this years ENDA is trans-inclusive and is now headed to the House of Representatives.   As immigration lawyers, our hearts sank as we heard people express optimism over the chances for its passage in the House.  Over the last four months, we have watched as the House has run out the clock on immigration reform.  Even after being confronted by young activists who brought their plights to him over breakfast, Speaker John Boehner made it clear today that no immigration legislation is moving this year.

 

If anyone believes that House members can be moved by hearing the personal stories of those effected by our terrible immigration laws or due to employment discrimination because of gender identity, Boehner’s cold response to these teenagers who spoke truth to power should put that notion to rest.  George Washington called the Senate the “cooling saucer” because it was meant to temper the excitable House of Representatives.  That role has changed and a group of 40 Tea Party Republicans in the House can stymie the hopes and aspirations of immigrants and trans men and women.  It is truly ironic because both pieces of legislation easily passed the Senate and would easily pass the House if the speaker would just bring it to a vote.  Yet, the Speaker cares more about the needs of his 40 Tea Party members than he does the suffering of 11 million immigrants or the need for employment discrimination protection for vulnerable minorities.

Our involvement in trans issues began when young trans women came into our office and asked us to help them apply for asylum.  Most had come from Central America and they all had stories of beatings, rapes, and rejection by their family.  They braved smugglers and human traffickers to make it to the U.S., where they found a chance to be themselves.  We have been able to obtain asylum for dozens of transgender individuals and not just from Central America.  Persecution of the non-gender-conforming is a worldwide pestilence.  To hear and know their stories and their bravery in leaving their homes under dangerous circumstances to have a chance to simply be themselves fills us with great admiration and respect for these individuals.  Their needs are far more fundamental than a job.  They come to America to be who they are.  It all starts there.  Over the years of representing trans individuals in asylum and then for green cards and, ultimately, citizenship, we have watched them grow into themselves, get stable employment, start relationships and family, and give back to their communities.  To watch a human being develop to her potential is like watching a flower bloom.  You can never grow tired of it.

The NTCE has done tremendous work to bring trans civil rights to the forefront of the political arena.  Like immigration reform, I am confident that full civil rights for trans people will occur in the future.  Last night, we heard from 33 year old Dylan Orr, a White House appointee, and 23 year old Sarah McBride, a political activist, about their professional experiences as a trans man and trans woman respectively.  They are the future and that gives us confidence and joy.

More on Asylum Litigation and the Meaning of Particular Social Group

7 Nov

SCOTUS

Last week, we told you about two cases that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard oral arguments on.  As we discussed, these cases will go a long way towards setting the law on what constitutes a particular social group for purposes of asylum.

One of these cases, Martinez, dealt with the issue of whether a former gang member can be granted protection in the U.S. because of a clear likelihood of persecution because of his status as a former gang member.  In Martinez, there is no doubt among the government or the courts that he will be harmed if he returns to El Salvador.  The question is whether he falls within a group meriting protection under U.S. asylum law.  The Board of Immigration Appeals said that Congress did not intend for someone to gain protection in the U.S. because they were once part of a criminal enterprise, which the Mara Salvatrucha certainly is.  The BIA reasoned that a person should not be able to get a benefit like protection for removal because of involvement in a gang and that gang membership is not what Congress had in mind when it allowed for protection for members of particular social groups.  Mr. Martinez’s lawyers, a very talented group led by FOBR Maureen Sweeney of the University of Maryland Law School Immigration Clinic, argued that Congress established a number of bars to asylum and withholding of removal and that previous gang membership was not among them.  Had Congress wished to exclude such individuals, it could have easily specified in the statute.  Martinez argued that the BIA created a bar to asylum and that was, in fact, Congress’ job, and not the Board’s.

Those arguments, made in briefs to the 4th Circuit, framed the argument held last Thursday.  Maureen Sweeney argued for Mr. Martinez and FOBR Ben Casper argued for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which filed a brief supporting Mr. Martinez’s claim to protection.  After the hearing, Maureen emailed the following report:

We had oral argument this morning, and I’m not one to draw overly optimistic conclusions from such things, but I will say that two of our 3 judges seemed to really get what the case was about. Our panel was Judges Wynn, Neimeyer and Flanagan (sitting by designation). Judge Neimeyer pretty much spent 40 minutes arguing our case for us – completely got the analytical distinction between current and past gang members, and spoke admiringly of how our client was trying to do the right thing and be a person of conscience, and how they’d just kill him for it if he had to go back. Judge Wynn seemed concerned about being asked to actually find all the elements of particular social group, but he didn’t seem to object to the idea of finding immutability and remanding the case for the BIA to do the rest of its job. Judge Flanagan was the hardest to read. Ben Casper from AILA did a great job pointing out how the Bd decision just adds to the chaos that is PSG jurisprudence right now. Judges seemed uninterested in whether initial membership in the gang was voluntary or not – they seemed to get that once the person left, that became the defining characteristic. And they didn’t seem particularly worried about letting in a bunch of bad guys. As Judge Neimeyer said, “That’s what you have all those bars in the statute for.” We will, of course, see what their decision says when they get around to writing it.

Thanks to all of you for all your help and support with this case and this new adventure in appellate work for me and our clinic. It made a big difference to me to feel like we had the support of such a great community behind us.

And the interesting trivia fact of the day is that we believe we were arguing in the courtroom where Jefferson Davis was tried after the Civil War. So if anybody ever asks you what Julio Martinez and Jeff Davis have in common, now you know!

A very encouraging report, to say the least.

A bit of bad news is that, on the day the case was argued in Richmond, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sitting in Boston issued a terrible decision on the same issue. In Cantarero v. Holder, the First Circuit held, “The BIA reasonably concluded that, in light of the manifest humanitarian purpose of the INA, Congress did not mean to grant asylum to those whose association with a criminal syndicate has caused them to run into danger.  Such recognition would reward membership in an organization that undoubtedly wreaks social harm in the streets of our country.”  It then added, preposterously, that recognition of such a social group “would, moreover, offer an incentive for aliens to join gangs here as a path to legal status.”  In rejecting protection, the 1st Circuit set up a circuit split between itself and the 7th Circuit and the 6th Circuit which had already concluded that former gang membership was a legitimate particular social group for asylum purposes.

Whatever the 4th Circuit does in Mr. Martinez’s case, it appears that this issue is teeing up for a showdown at the Supreme Court.

Two Big Asylum Cases at 4th Circuit This Week

28 Oct

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This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the federal appellate court which sets federal law in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, will hear two cases regarding U.S. asylum law.  In Temu v. Holder and Martinez v. Holder, the court will consider the contours of the protected ground of “particular social group.”  The decisions in these cases will determine whether asylum law will be more inclusive or whether the law will shut many deserving applicants out of the protection of asylum.

Asylum may be granted to an individual who can demonstrate that she has suffered persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution in her home country on account of her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  These five bases for asylum are known as “protected grounds.”  Whereas political opinion, race, religion, and nationality are all fairly intuitive, U.S. law has had to define “particular social group” on a case-by-case basis.  The results have been fairly uneven.  The watershed decision establishing what constitutes a particular social group is a 1985 decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals, Matter of Acosta In Acosta, the Board defined a particular social group as a group of individuals who share a certain immutable characteristic that can not be changed or is so fundamental to their identity that they should not be required to change.  The Acosta definition served asylum law pretty well for two decades.  Since Acosta, homosexuals, members of clans, family relationships, women opposed to female genital mutilation, women who refuse to conform to strict religious codes, and women seeking escape from domestic violence have all been recognized as social groups for the purposes of asylum.

However, in the last few years, the Acosta standard has come under attack by the Board of Immigration Appeals.  In Matter of C-A-, the BIA added a new element to the standard Acosta definition: social visibility.  While purporting to uphold the Acosta definition, the BIA stated that members of a particular social group must “be easily recognizable and understood by others to constitute social groups.”  By emphasizing social visibility, the BIA added a new element and resulted in denying asylum to a confidential informant against the Cali cartel whose life was in danger as his informing activities had been discovered.  The BIA found that confidential informant, by their very nature were not recognizable to the public.  The carnage continued with Matter of SEG and Matter of EAG.  In Matter of SEG, the BIA held that Salvadoran youth whose life was in danger because they had resisted recruitment by gangs did not constitute a social group that was recognizable to members of society.  In Matter of EAG, the BIA also found that persons resistant to gang membership and those who might be mistakenly identified by police as gang members did not qualify as social groups.  CA, SEG and EAG have severely limited the class of individuals who could qualify for asylum by claiming persecution on account of membership in a particular social group.

Some courts have rejected the BIA’s analysis.  In Benitez-Ramos v. Holder, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago rejected the social visibility test, insofar as the BIA test required that a group member be visible on sight.  The 7th Circuit held that the social group of “former gang member” was immutable and that gang membership is easily identifiable, as is former gang membership.

The 4th Circuit will now consider in Martinez whether a young man who was conscripted into a gang and subsequently left can obtain protection under U.S. asylum law.  Mr. Martinez was attacked on multiple occasions and was aware that gang leaders had given the “green light” to other gang members that they were free to murder their former compatriot.  In its decision in Martinez, the BIA decided that Congress could not have intended gang membership and therefore former gang membership to create an opportunity for protection under U.S. law.  Congress could not have intended for criminal gangs to be social groups worthy of protections of U.S. law.  The 4th must decide whether former gang membership is immutable and how closely it will adhere to the BIA’s social visibility test.

In Temu, the 4th Circuit must consider whether a man who was imprisoned and tortured in his home country of Tanzania because he was acting erratically as a result of his mental illness qualifies for asylum.  When Mr. Temu was beaten in the prison in Tanzania, he heard the guards call him names reserved for the mentally ill, except in Tanzania the belief is that such behavior comes from demonic possession rather than biochemical origins.  The BIA held that Temu was imprisoned because of his behavior and not because of his mental illness, even though the record is clear that, once in prison, he was treated differently than other prisoners because of his mental illness.

Both cases are being argued by experienced and talented lawyers who are working pro bono.  Argument is this week and we expect decisions in the spring.  We will keep you updated and have our fingers crossed that the law will become more welcoming from those seeking violence and persecution in their home countries.