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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Archive for the ‘Enforcement / detention’ Category

Perspective from a State Department officer

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

In my last blog post, “Trump’s deliberate precipitation of an immigration crisis,” I made the case that the “extreme vetting” called for in President Trump’s Executive Order of January 27, 2017, banning immigrants from seven countries, was already in place.  I based this on my experience as an immigration attorney working with visa applicants.

Now, we have the perspective of Natasha Hall, a former Department of Homeland Security immigration officer, providing much more detail about what refugees must go through in order to be let in through our “golden door.”  Please give it a read.

For those who think that this Executive Order is the right move, think about if you were one of these refugees, what should you expect from America?  Think about having lost your home, your livelihood, maybe your family members, all your belongings, and your sense of security.  Think about not being able to go to school or to learn as a child.  Think about your entire childhood spent in crowded, desperate, dangerous refugee camps.  Think about the violence you have witnessed and experienced.  Think about not having enough food to eat, or clean clothes to wear, or clean water to drink or wash with.  Think about needing the kindness of strangers to survive, and knowing that so many times such kindness is not forthcoming.

I understand the justification given for this Executive Order, that we may inadvertently admit a terrorist posing as a refugee, but this is not the way to address that fear, for so many reasons.  In fact, many have argued, and I concur, that this order makes things worse.

If you are ever in need yourself, I would hope that others would hold out a helping hand to you, rather than remember this Executive Order and turn away as we now are in danger of doing to so many.  This order makes it this much harder to be an American in the world.  We reap what we sow.

Lawyers for detained immigrants

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Immigration law is a strange beast.  Immigration is usually civil law, with the penalty for violations ultimately being deportation, that is, not being permitted to stay in this country.  While certain immigration violations are classified as criminal offenses, the majority of immigration laws fall into the civil arena.

In the world of immigration enforcement, “detention” (a value-neutral way of saying “imprisonment”) of immigrants is all-too-common and devastating to the individuals detained and their families.  It is a deprivation of liberty, a penalty that we reserve for our most serious criminals, and yet it is used routinely for alleged immigration violations.  I’ve said it before on this forum, but it bears repeating:  Immigrant detainees are caught in a Catch-22 because these individuals are treated as criminals but not given the rights of the criminally accused.  We should either treat immigrants accused of violating immigration laws as being accused of civil violations, with civil penalties and only civil protections and rights, or treat these immigrants as criminal defendants, with the concomitant protections of the criminally accused.  Straddling the middle of these categories – given only civil protections but faced with criminal penalties – exacts a high toll in human suffering (for the immigrant and the immigrant’s family) and economic resources, as we lose the value of that person’s contribution to the labor market and spending in our economy, and imprisoning unauthorized immigrants costs us about $2 billion a year.

Immigrant advocates have long pointed out this inequity, and now a new pilot program in New York City, funded by City Council, aims to ameliorate at least one aspect of this problem.  The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project is a one-year program aimed at providing pro bono counsel to detained New Yorkers.  Immigrants in deportation proceedings are told by judges that they have the right to counsel, but only at no cost to the government.  For low-income immigrants in proceedings this is a hollow right.  It is meaningless when one cannot afford to pay for competent counsel, and finding a good lawyer from prison… Well, try it yourself and see how far you get.

Like all sectors of the population, immigrants include good apples and bad apples.  For immigrants found to be dangerous to the community imprisonment is appropriate.  But for those accused only of non-criminal violations of immigration law, incarceration often unnecessarily rips apart families, prevents a parent from being able to look after and provide for U.S. citizen children, removes a needed employee from work, and costs about $164 a day (that’s $59,860 a year) to house and feed that individual on the federal dime.  Think of this just in terms of the cost of foster care for children left without a parent to look after them ($36,000 a year in New York City), and you start to get an idea of the real costs of unnecessarily jailing those accused of civil immigration violations.  Having a good lawyer in this situation often makes all the difference, according to the 2011 New York Immigrant Representation Study, which found that the percentage of detained immigrants who win their immigration cases without representation is 3%.  Having a lawyer, and being free from detention, can increase the chances of success to 74%.

The estimated cost of providing competent counsel for a detained immigrant is $3,000.  If this is the cost of proving that an immigrant should not be detained while defending against a deportation action then it will save the federal government about $60,000 a year per immigrant, and save in the costs of families having to rely on public support systems because a vital breadwinner is incarcerated.

I will keep an eye out to see how this pilot program fares.  It is a step in the right direction and I wish it the best.

Review of “De Novo – mas alla de las fronteras (beyond borders)”

Friday, March 29th, 2013

I saw the play “De Novo – mas allas de las fronteras (beyond borders)” last night.  It was a beautiful, touching, realistic depiction of what some undocumented immigrant youth face when they are placed in deportation proceedings, produced by Houses on the Moon theater company.

There are so many different meanings of “de novo” that resonate throughout the play.  From a lawyer’s perspective, it is a term of art meaning review by a court from the beginning, without relying on prior adjudications, and assessing all evidence afresh rather than through the lens of another adjudicator’s decision.  In a more general sense, it means taking things from the beginning, or starting anew.  The play invites us to both look at the life of one undocumented immigrant youth from the beginning, and to think about the roots of the circumstances of his life, and the immigration system that we have and how it is should be reformed.  It made me think, “What controlled this person’s life?  What could he have done given his circumstances?  Could he have made different decisions?  What are our responsibilities for the circumstances of his life?  What is the U.S. government’s responsibility here?”

“De Novo” is about Edgar Chocoy-Guzman, a real person.  The play uses language taken from real documents, including letters, psychological evaluations, and court transcripts.  He was born in Guatamala in 1987.  He never really knew his father.  His mother left for America when he was an infant.  He lived in his grandfather’s house but no one really parented him.  He joins the gang Mara Salvatrucha and then leaves it, and leaves Guatemala because the gang has put a hit on him.  He joins his mother in Los Angeles and ends up joining another gang.  He is then placed in juvenile detention and then, after he has served his time, instead of being released he is transferred to immigration detention and placed in deportation proceedings, at age 15.  Knowing that he would still be a target of assassination back in Guatemala, he applies for asylum.

The scenes of immigration court proceedings were spot-on.  This is not your Law & Order polished court scene.  The court scenes in “De Novo” were just like the real thing.

There was a panel discussion after the play, and the moderator took the stage visibly emotionally affected by the performance.  I won’t tell you any more as it would spoil the play for you.  All of the actors were excellent.  The fact that the words used in the play were the actual words uttered or written as Edgar’s story unfolded in reality made the story even more affecting.  That this is a real story makes it even more immediate, compelling and thought-provoking.  This is about someone’s actual life and experience.  If you get the chance to see this, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you go.  If you know people who are hostile to immigrants, bring them along.  Let them see what it’s really like to be an unauthorized immigrant in America, instead of thinking of unauthorized immigrants one-dimensionally as nothing more than law-breakers who need to be deported.


Prisons and immigration enforcement

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Here’s an enlightening article about the costs of incarceration and, incidentally, how much increased immigration detention has contributed to the coffers of the private companies that run prisons:  “Prison Break.”

The increased emphasis on immigration enforcement means keeping more people detained, which is a costly endeavor, both in money and human costs, as illustrated on this page of the Detention Watch Network website.

And for those interested in learning more about the state of immigration detention – which is supposed to be merely detention, not punishment, because individuals are held while their status is determined, NOT because they are found guilty of any crime – here’s a report on the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention:  Invisible-in-Isolation-Sep2012-detention. (See the Executive Summary for a quick overview of the findings.)

There’s lots more about this issue.  These three sources are just an introduction.