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.
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.
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.