Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to discuss this matter with Senator Chris Murphy and Senator Richard Blumenthal. In fact, Senator Blumenthal had just returned from a trip to Artesia. This is a very complicated (and politically charged) issue that cannot be adequately addressed in a blog post. I encourage readers to research the arguments on both sides of this debate, and welcome any questions.
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Written by Kim Hunter, AILA member, Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter
I spent last week at the Artesia “family detention” center, a 4-hour drive from both Albuquerque and El Paso. We had a group of roughly ten volunteers (attorneys, translators, and administrative staff) trying to stop the rapid deportations and see that the women and their children get some modicum of due process. This was the first week there has been a full time volunteer attorney presence on site during the month it has been open.
The first impression you get when you walk into the “law library” (a FEMA trailer with one computer for the ‘residents’ to use, one printer, one copier that was out of ink and NO books) is that all the children are sick, with coughs at minimum. They are dehydrated and listless. They are cold – there were two mornings where the temperature was around 60, and there were no jackets or blankets, so mothers and kids walked around with towels wrapped around their shoulders for warmth. Nearly all of them have valid claims for asylum – the majority based on domestic violence or gang issues. An unfortunate number were already deported without the opportunity to even consult with an attorney. Some mothers are giving up and asking to be deported because their kids are so sick.
Our team prioritized preparing women for credible fear interviews, representing them at [Credible Fear] CF reviews before the [Immigration Judges] IJs (who are on video from Arlington), and requesting bond. As of today’s date, we are not aware of anyone actually being released on bond, though attorney Olsi Vrapi just sent an email to say that IJ Owens set a bond at $25,000(!). ICE is filing a boilerplate 131-page exhibit that claims all these families are a security risk and thus should be continued in custody. And of course, ICE’s policy memos on parole after positive CFIs are being completely disregarded.
Around 200 women (the entire capacity of the location is 600, including children) have requested a consultation with a pro bono attorney. The project is unable to keep up with demand, and trying to figure out ways to best utilize limited resources. In some cases where there has been an obvious error by the asylum office, we were successful in getting a new CFI. None of the three organizations on the free legal services list provides direct representation, and only one, out of El Paso, is available to come on site and do Know Your Rights presentations.
After the IJs deny (or set unreasonably high) bond, the women are being given 3-4 weeks to prepare for individual hearings. They are expected to prepare the form I-589 (which is only in English, and many of the women have no or very little education) on the one computer in the “law library” to present their case. [Customs and Border Patrol] CBP interviews are being used to impeach the women’s credibility, though many report that they did state a fear of returning to their home country but CBP refused to believe them. Or, CBP asks whether they intend to work in the U.S., and once they say yes, CBP claims no stated fear of return.
In sum, the reality on the ground feels like the worst of all the border legislation that was proposed and failed actually passed – people are being herded through the system en masse, with no genuine regard to due process whatsoever. Why bother to change the law when Washington can accomplish the same goals by impeding people’s access to attorneys and to release from custody, as well as rush them to a final hearing where an application written in a language they don’t understand is their only lifeline?
Having said all that, I still think there is a moral imperative to making the trip and your work can make a difference. These women need to know there are at least some people in the U.S. standing up for them.
Link to Original Article
Written by Laura Lichter, AILA Past President
We drove from Denver to Artesia yesterday, a small town in central New Mexico, about three hours from anywhere. It’s about a nine hour drive down from the last high passes of southern Colorado, through the low scrub of northern New Mexico into the high barren desert. For hundreds of miles, the horizon was punctuated by nothing but long, low mesas, and thunderheads and storm squalls in the distance.
It’s a stark, beautiful landscape, which got drier and more barren the closer we got to our destination. Until recently, Artesia was probably best known as home of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). In June, Artesia became home to over 600 Central American women and children, housed in portable units on the FLETC campus. It’s supposed to be a place to house migrants in a “residential” setting while their cases are reviewed for potential claims. In reality, the facility feels more like an internment camp designed to be a deportation mill.
First, when you create a detention center in the middle of nowhere, it’s obvious that you’re going to run in to problems. Staffing, housing, visitation protocols, etc… are immediate concerns and only increase the daily misery. People are sick – the mothers we meet all tell us their children either refuse to eat or have constant diarrhea. They don’t have proper clothing against the air conditioning and are constantly cold. Detainees visit us, covered with small hand towels to keep themselves warm. We have donations stacked 8 feet high nearby, but ICE won’t let us bring in blankets and other donations.
Add on trying to rush women and children through a process that’s stacked against them – a problem of the government’s own making. Volunteer pro bono attorneys can’t get names before initial case reviews take place. More often than not, these women — with their children in tow — walk into one of the most complicated areas of immigration law unprepared, unrepresented, unadvised and have to plead for their lives.
Morale at the detention facility is low, tempers are short — it seems like no one wants to be here — not the “residents,” nor the ICE guards or the USCIS asylum officers. AILA attorneys are screening, volunteering direct representation and working nearly around the clock to handle the volume and the speed of the cases. Nearly a half dozen asylum officers are working extended shifts. Some are good, some are not. The best of them are courteous and clearly are trying to find out if there is a legal claim. The worst are short tempered, impatient, biased and rude.
There is no on site Legal Orientation Program (LOP) provider. Only after several weeks of outcry was funding obtained to allow an El Paso non-profit, DRMS, to come to the facility twice a week, but only to do Know Your Rights presentations, not direct representation. DRMS can only do presentations two days a week: if you miss the Thursday / Friday sessions and you didn’t get lucky enough to be screened by a volunteer lawyer, you walk into a legal minefield, defenseless.
Many of the reviewed cases have been found to have a “credible fear” of return, but ICE is refusing to release these bona fide refugees. Now the government is arguing that their continued detention is necessary to make sure they are not national security threats and to deter other (bona fide) asylum seekers from asking for the protections we are obligated to provide under our own immigration laws. Not only that, but they are arguing that these refugees are a flight risk, despite asylum seekers having a 93% appearance rate, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). Unbelievable.
Link to Original Article