All posts by Ray Garrido

Luck was on her side

Last week we were called about a woman we’ll call Bertha (not her real name) who was in the Northwest Detention Center and who needed representation. Thinking this was a “simple” bond situation, and having time to investigate a new case, we visited her that evening. What we found was that not only was she unrepresented but she had represented herself in two court hearings and had already been ordered deported.

Bertha was fleeing persecution in her country because of her political opinion and applied for asylum when she reached the United States. She was immediately detained. By representing herself she had little chance of being granted asylum. And as is usually the case, the immigration judge ordered her deported. Luckily she had reserved the right to appeal the judge’s deportation order and with the help of another detainee had filed a notice of appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). That would give us some time to assess her case and build a defense.

When we reviewed the appeal we found that it did not have Bertha’s identification number on it. Without that number, the BIA would have rejected her appeal immediately and the time for the appeal would have ended. We called the BIA and found that they had indeed rejected the appeal. With only a few days left to make the deadline we quickly returned to the detention center and met with Bertha to write a new appeal. We filed the appeal overnight and met the deadline.

Now, the next step was to get Bertha released from detention while her appeal was being evaluated. We wrote a parole request and filed it with ICE.  After several conversations ICE agree to release Bertha and on May 2nd she was united with her family outside the gates of the Northwest Detention Center.

Free at last.

Bertha came here seeking refuge from persecution and thinking she would get help in the US. Instead she was met by a government that is focused on denying asylum to as many people as possible and imprisoning them while their cases are being adjudicated. We were lucky to have learned about Bertha’s case before it was too late.

There are many more cases like Bertha’s and with your continued support we will endeavor to help as many of them as we can.

What has become of us?

Our country has long been known as a nation of immigrants, reflecting not only our diversity, but a shared belief in liberty, justice, opportunity, and in providing refuge to those fleeing persecution. The current administration is doing everything it can to radically change our immigration laws and policies. It began with three Executive Orders aimed at keeping migrants from entering our country.

In September, 2017, the President terminated DACA, a program that helped tens of thousands young people brought to the US as children gain temporary status. KIAC helped many young people in our community get DACA and has continued to help those with DACA to renew their status since a federal court put the administration’s order on hold.

In April 2018 the Attorney General announced a “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in the criminal prosecution of immigrants trying to enter our country to seek asylum and in the separation of children from their parents. The Attorney General said this was to deter and punish people who crossed our border seeking refuge.

The outcry from people all over our country forced the president to stop the policy but not before thousands of families were torn apart. Some have still not been reunited. KIAC represented several of these separated families, helping to secure their release from detention and reuniting them.

In June of 2018 the Attorney General issued a decision that attempted to make refugees who were victims of domestic or gang violence ineligible for asylum. KIAC is defending dozens of asylum clients, many of them children, who are affected by the Attorney General’s decision.

In the meantime every few weeks another rule or regulation that makes applying for immigration benefits harder is being issued by immigration agencies.

With an administration that is obviously anti-immigrant, immigration courts and judges are put under pressure to adjudicate based on the administration’s politics. They have been given quotas requiring them to complete 700 cases a year. Immigration judges have been asking Congress for years to make the immigration court independent, similar to the Tax Court. “Immigration judges say a shift is urgently needed now because Trump administration officials — some of whom are vocal critics of illegal immigration — are undermining judicial independence and immigrants’ rights to a fair hearing.” Immigration judges’ union calls for immigration court independent from Justice Department Maria Sacchetti Washington Post September 21, 2018

In January the Department of Homeland Security started a new policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols. The policy requires migrants seeking asylum to wait for months in Mexico before their asylum interview. What this policy really does is threaten meaningful access to asylum and other humanitarian protections under U.S. immigration laws. Asylum seekers caught in this inhumane situation will find it difficult, if not impossible, to find legal help to prepare their asylum interviews. Statistics show that people who are unrepresented have a very low chance of succeeding in gaining asylum. On April 8th a federal judge ordered a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking this policy. It is certain the administration will appeal this ruling.

Most of these asylum seekers experienced violence and corruption that caused them to flee their countries. Now they are stuck in a limbo of waiting, in many cases in unsafe circumstances. In a recent report in Alert, Alberto Macin, a psychologist working with Doctors Without Borders said “Due to the violence that these people have experienced in the country of origin and during their transit through Mexico, once they reach these places [near the destination] where conditions are still not suitable for them, we find symptoms such as anxiety, acute stress, and some cases of post-traumatic stress [disorder].” Not only are we denying refugees the ability to enter our country while seeking asylum, we are also contributing to their trauma.

Now, as more and more people from the Northern Triangle countries leave their homes because of the violence and corruption that threatens their lives, the president is attempting to stop aid to those countries. At least 75% of this aid was going to non-government organizations that were working to reduce poverty and violence, the two most prevalent causes for people fleeing. Eliminating this funding will only make the situation in these countries worse.

On Tuesday, April 16th, the Attorney General added another ruling aimed at punishing and deterring asylum seekers. With this ruling immigration judges will not be allowed to grant a bond to people who have been found to have a credible fear of persecution. This means they will remain in immigration jail for months or even years until they have their asylum hearing. We expect that ICE will use this ruling to justify expanding its detention system, further enriching for-profit prison corporations.

Violence and corruption are driving people from their homes in these countries. They come to us because they believe they will receive help here. Our country, which was once seen as a place of hope for those fleeing violence, corruption, and poverty, is now putting fear into the hearts of those seeking help.

KIAC is doing all it can to ensure justice and due process rights for immigrants and asylum seekers in our community.  We anticipate the demand for help for additional asylum seekers will increase. We get pleas for help every day that we are not able to respond to. Representing asylum seekers is a long-term commitment. Many times the final hearing is set for two or three years out. Even though we have added a paralegal to help increase our capacity, the demands for help far exceed our capacity. We need your help to expand our capacity so that we are able to serve those who desperately need our help. Please stand with us in ensuring that our country continues to be a place of safety, where those seeking refuge can be assured that they will receive fair treatment, due process and the help they deserve.

USCIS Processing Delays Soared While Application Rates Fell

Newly released U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data has cast an even harsher glare on the agency’s well-documented failure to process its caseload in a timely fashion.

Posted by Jason Boyd | Mar 1, 2019 at

On January 30, 2019, AILA published an analysis of USCIS statistics showing that case processing delays have reached crisis levels under the Trump administration. Among other findings, AILA determined that USCIS’s “overall average case processing time” grew by 19 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2018 alone, with harmful consequences for families, vulnerable populations, and U.S. businesses throughout the country. That same day, in response to media inquiries on the report, a USCIS spokesperson appeared to attribute delays in significant part to the agency’s case receipt volume. He asserted, “[t]he truth is that, while many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing.”

Yet earlier this week, the agency disclosed that overall USCIS application rates were far from “higher” in FY 2018 compared to the prior year. To the contrary, the total volume of cases filed with USCIS fell from 8,530,722 in FY 2017 to 7,527,851 in FY 2018—an approximately 13% drop. That’s more than a million fewer cases and the lowest quantity in at least the past four fiscal years.[1] The takeaway is clear: case processing delays rose by a wide margin in FY 2018, even as application rates fell substantially.

This disclosure strengthens indications that misguided, inefficient USCIS policies imposed under the Trump administration have played an outsize role in the agency’s ballooning case backlog. Already, DHS acknowledged to Congress that its policies have contributed to that growth. And last month, Members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to USCIS Director Francis Cissna asking USCIS to identify “all policies introduced under the current administration that have contributed to the USCIS case backlog” and to “provide all analyses performed by the agency on how these policies impact processing times.” Members specifically sought information on processing time implications of the administration’s adoption of “extreme vetting,” of its in-person interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants as well as many relatives of asylees and refugees, and of its rescission of longstanding guidance that directed adjudicators to give deference to certain prior case determinations. Further, the letter requests an explanation of how USCIS “intend[s] to reduce and ultimately eliminate processing delays, while ensuring fairness and quality of adjudications, and without passing the costs of the agency’s inefficiencies onto the applicants and petitioners experiencing hardship due to USCIS’s crisis-level delays.”

Congress and the public need prompt answers to these questions. As time passes, USCIS processing delays are only growing worse. Following the publication of AILA’s analysis—which examined nationwide USCIS processing time data from fiscal years 2014 through 2018—the agency released information showing that, through the first quarter of FY 2019, its “overall average case processing time” as calculated by AILA had continued to grow. For example, the nationwide average processing time for employment-based green card applications (Form I-485) expanded by 11% during that quarter, from an average of 11 months at the end of FY 2018 to 12.2 months through December 31, 2018. Growth in delays was even more conspicuous for special immigrant petitions (Form I-360). Through these petitions, domestic abuse survivors—among other individuals seeking humanitarian relief—can obtain lasting protection and legal immigration status. At the end of FY 2018, USCIS was processing I-360s in an average of 13.5 months. As of December 31, 2018, that average had risen to 16.8 months—representing an increase of almost 25% in just three months’ time and an overall increase of 350% since the end of FY 2016. Every day that these delays drag on is another day that survivors could face violence and torture at the hands of their abusers.

USCIS’s emphasis of application rates when answering media inquiries on its runaway delays—even though those rates have substantially declined—highlights the inadequacy of the agency’s response to its systemic operational failures. The millions enduring hardship due to USCIS delays—from families struggling to make ends meet, to protection seekers facing danger, to American businesses unable to fill critical workforce gaps—deserve better from an agency whose statutory purpose is to effectively administer immigration benefits. USCIS owes them—it owes the nation—immediate and full accountability. There’s no time to lose.