Statewide Expansion of Oregon’s Universal Representation Program For Immigrants Begins

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 30, 2019

Portland, OR ー On October 01, 2019, the Equity Corps of Oregon, a trailblazing universal representation program that provides lawyers for immigrants in removal proceedings who cannot afford private legal representation, will begin providing legal services statewide. Equity Corps launched on October 1, 2018 with support from the City of Portland and Multnomah County, but is now able to expand statewide thanks to the State of Oregon’s $2 million investment in the innovative program. 

Legal defense for those facing deportation proceedings remains an urgent need throughout Oregon.  In a 2018 survey conducted by the Oregon Law Foundation, 70% of participants identified immigration as a civil legal issue that had a very or extremely negative effect on their lives. Unlike in criminal proceedings, respondents appearing before the U.S. immigration court do not have the right to court-appointed counsel. Meanwhile, the federal government is always represented by an attorney.  Those going before the Portland Immigration Court without legal representation are nearly five-and-a-half times more likely to lose their cases and be ordered deported from the United States; many to situations where their lives are in immediate danger. 

“No one should have to navigate our country’s highly complex immigration system without an attorney, especially when the consequences can include permanent family separation and removal to a country where they may face serious harms,” said Jordan Cunnings, managing Equity Corps attorney at Innovation Law Lab.  “Equity Corps aims to remedy the injustice wrought by this representation crisis by providing all income-eligible immigrant Oregonians with high quality legal services and representation.” 

Equity Corps is specifically designed to address this representation gap.  By leveraging the power of collaborative representation and innovative technology, Oregon’s universal representation program allows Oregonians in deportation proceedings to enter the pro bono legal services structure through a Community Navigator. Community navigators are trained to conduct a free, confidential, and secure referral into the program’s case clearinghouse database which is developed and maintained by software engineers at Innovation Law Lab, a Portland-based nonprofit. Those eligible for legal support through Equity Corps will then have access to free legal orientations, limited scope legal service workshops, legal representation, and connections to medical or mental health resources. 

In many ways, Oregonians are leading the country’s effort to establish a scalable, holistic, and high-quality universal legal defense system to ensure justice for immigrant members of its communities. “We are grateful to the people of Oregon for their ongoing trust and support in this essential effort.” said Benjamin Grass of Innovation Law Lab. “This is a watershed moment, a big step towards making inclusion, due process, and justice a reality for all Oregonians.” 

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To access Equity Corps services, start by finding a Community Navigator near you.

Read more about the Equity Corps’ novel representation model in this report “Defend Everyone: Creating the Equity Corps of Oregon to Provide Universal Representation.” 

Equity Corps of Oregon legal service providers include Catholic Charities of Oregon’s Immigration Legal Services, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Immigrant Defense Oregon of Metropolitan Public Defender, Immigration Counseling Service, Innovation Law Lab, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, and Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Community navigation organizations include El Programa Hispano, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Latino Network, and Pueblo Unido.  

The Universal Representation Committee of Oregon Ready is comprised of representatives from Causa, Catholic Charities of Oregon’s Immigration Legal Services, Immigrant Defense Oregon of Metropolitan Public Defender, Immigration Counseling Service, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Innovation Law Lab, Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Navigating Community Organization Pueblo Unido, and Transformative Immigration Law Class at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Trump’s “Remain In Mexico” Policy To Go Before the U.S. Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 30, 2019

San Francisco, CA ー On Tuesday, October 01, 2019, oral arguments will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the matter of Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan, a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s policy of forcing thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until the conclusion of their removal proceedings before a U.S. immigration court. 

In bringing the lawsuit, Innovation Law Lab and its co-plaintiffs allege that Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the United States’ duty under domestic and international law to not return people to dangerous conditions. A federal court ruled in April that the policy is unlawful and temporarily blocked its implementation; the Ninth Circuit subsequently lifted the lower court’s injunction pending further court proceedings. Subsequently, multiple amicus briefs have been filed in support of plaintiffs, including briefs by current US Asylum Officers, former US government officials in the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

“The United States has a longstanding tradition of providing safe haven to people fleeing persecution,” Tess Hellgren, attorney at Innovation Law Lab, explained. “Over the years, Congress has enacted laws to implement our country’s international and humanitarian obligations. In violation of these laws, the Trump Administration’s policy traps asylum seekers in dangerous conditions and impairs their right to seek refuge.” 

Since the implementation of the policy in January, there has been documentation of widespread kidnappings, sexual violence, crime, homelessness, and illegal deportations of migrants trapped in untenable situations along the border. Advocates along the border also report that the policy has severely impeded asylum seekers’ access to legal representation, posing nearly insurmountable logistical barriers to retaining and communicating with legal counsel in the United States.  Many of those targeted by the cruel program are forced into homelessness in Mexico while they have families and friends ready, willing and able to house and support them in the United States.

“The federal government cruelly refers to this program as the ‘Migrant Protection Protocols.’ We call MPP by its more accurate name, the ‘Migrant Persecution Protocols,’” said PJ Podesta of Innovation Law Lab. “We hope the Ninth Circuit puts an end to this xenophobic, violent, and illegal policy, which has already caused immeasurable harm to individuals and families seeking protection and forced to remain in Mexico.”

This lawsuit is brought by Innovation Law Lab along with eleven individual plaintiffs and the Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, the University of San Francisco School of Law Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Al Otro Lado, and the Tahirih Justice Center. Plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). 

MEDIA CONTACT
Ramon Valdez
971-238-1804
ramon@innovationlawlab.org

Su Caso Esta En Sus Manos

One of the world’s largest information and power disparity exists throughout the U.S. asylum adjudication system. A disparity exacerbated by the federal government’s recent attacks on asylum law and a concerning lack of access to free or affordable legal representation; putting refugees at an insurmountable disadvantage as they request safety in the United States. Under the current system, a person’s inability to explain their personal experiences within the context of relevant law means certain deportation back to harm’s way. Those seeking asylum in the United States are 5x less likely to succeed if not represented by an attorney.

While Innovation Law Lab is working diligently to increase legal representation at every step of a refugee’s journey, we recognize the legal community’s current limitations for providing free or affordable legal representation to all asylum-seekers in the United States. We also recognize how dire the situation has become for those unable to access even the most minimal legal services. And as a result, we are building models of support to reduce the harm felt in the increasingly large unrepresented population.

Over the past year, Innovation Law Lab has been collaborating closely with organizations across the United States to launch Asylum Workshop programs which work to inform, empower, and provide limited legal services to unrepresented individuals and families. As part of this ongoing initiative, Innovation Law Lab and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies have produced a Spanish-language informational video about asylum eligibility requirements which can be shared with persons fleeing persecution who have yet to retain legal representation or orientation. The “manita” framework used in this video was developed by Brenda Perez, a mijente member, as a popular education tool for asylum-seekers. 

Please note that this video is created as a tool to inform and not intended to serve as legal advice. Please also note that asylum eligibility, legal processes, and federal immigration policies are rapidly changing and may apply differently to recently arrived refugees. We encourage all to consult with an experienced attorney for case-specific information. 

Federal Judge Reinstates Nationwide Injunction Preventing Asylum Transit Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 9, 2019

LAW LAB MEDIA CONTACT
Ramon Valdez; ramon@innovationlawlab.org; 971-238-1804

Oakland, CA 一 Today, a federal court restored a nationwide injunction which prevents the Trump Administration from denying asylum to those fleeing persecution if they passed through another country prior to reaching the United States. The court’s nationwide injunction had been issued on July 24, 2019. It was then upheld but narrowed in its scope by the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. “Today’s decision helps to prevent some of the chaos that has been created by this Administration’s complete disregard for the law,” said Jordan Cunnings, staff attorney at Innovation Law Lab.

In its decision, the federal court acknowledged that plaintiff organizations would, in fact, “suffer a variety of harms” if the asylum transit ban were allowed to go into effect outside of the Ninth Circuit.  For example, the court noted that Innovation Law Lab’s national programming, including its pro bono programs and pro se workshops for people fleeing persecution, would suffer in the absence of a nationwide injunction. The court also cited the need to maintain uniform immigration policy, the text of the Administrative Procedures Act, and the “major administrability issues” that would arise in a ban that applied only outside the Ninth Circuit. 

In its initial injunction, the court had analyzed the government’s rule against the overwhelming evidence — submitted by the Trump administration itself — that, in the court’s words documented “in exhaustive detail the ways in which those seeking asylum in Mexico are subject to violence and abuse from third parties and government officials, denied their rights under Mexican and international law, and wrongly returned to countries from which they fled persecution.” Notably, the court recognized that “even though this mountain of evidence points one way, the agencies went the other — with no explanation.”

“These reckless immigration policies, designed to circumvent asylum law, have dramatically and unnecessarily increased human suffering in North America,” said Ramon Valdez, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Innovation Law Lab. “Refugees deserve to be met with policies of compassion, not animosity.” 

Read the court’s decision here →

Support plaintiff organizations by donating here →

LAW LAB MEDIA CONTACT
Ramon Valdez; ramon@innovationlawlab.org; 971-238-1804

“Hunger strike protocols have been implemented”

Beginning in July, several men from India imprisoned by ICE in El Paso began a hunger strike in protest of their prolonged incarceration — a year or more after they entered the United States to seek asylum.

Some of the men declared that they preferred to die rather than continue to be imprisoned or to be deported back to the persecution they fled.

On August 16th, when pressed by advocates for information for six of these men, ICE offered an email response. The correspondence was riddled with misinformation and euphemisms meant to obscure ICE’s use of brutality and violence. 

Here, the Law Lab team— part of the hunger strikers’ legal team led by Linda Corchado of Las Americas — provides comments within the margins of this email to bring light on what ICE is attempting to hide.

A letter to the residents of Juarez and El Paso.

To the residents of, and communities adjacent to, the lands of Juarez and El Paso, 

Our hearts ache for the lives lost this week to state-sponsored white supremacist violence. Twenty-two precious lives cut short and dozens injured because of unconscionable hatred, leaving behind families and communities steeped in grief, trauma, and irreparable pain.

Let us be clear: this domestic terrorist is not an oddity. He is the byproduct of a public narrative that, over the past few decades, has worked relentlessly to stigmatize immigrants of color and criminalize the human act of migration. His hate-fueled ideology has been emboldened by an administration that routinely fans the flames of race-based terror in its reckless pursuit of power. His acts are mirrored by a system of immigration enforcement and incarceration that inflicts violence against migrants and people of color on a daily basis.

In the aftermath, the Trump Administration and right-wing media have sought to deflect blame. Their calls for unity and healing are seen for what they are: empty lies meant to mask their agenda, which we know remains unchanged.

And neither does ours. We stand with you in the collective pursuit of healing and justice.

You, the El Paso community, are the silver lining to a terribly dark cloud. As we collectively mourn this horrific loss, our team stands in awe of your community’s heart, beauty, and courage. For over two years, Innovation Law Lab has been honored to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in defense of immigrant rights. We continue to stand in fierce solidarity with you. This week, as our team works with local and national partners to launch the El Paso Immigration Collaborative (EPIC), we vow to continue to listen to your leadership and uplift your visions of healing. We are committed to continue this critical work, at your side, until we have created true collective equality, inclusion, and safety for all. 

With some of our team living in the borderlands, and many more supporting your community remotely, we know that El Paso is a land of deep mutual support—of love that is courageous, boundless, and resilient. Earnest love and solidarity now confronted with the forces of xenophobia and racism. 

Our love is stronger than hate. Our solidarity is stronger than violence.

Adelante.

El Paso Immigration Collaborative (EPIC) Seeks to Change the Asylum Landscape for Detained Immigrants

Innovation Law Lab is proud to announce the launch of a new legal representation initiative called El Paso Immigration Collaborative (EPIC). EPIC is an initiative between multiple national and local organizations which aims to increase access to counsel for detained immigrants in El Paso, Texas and transform the ecosystem of courts and detention centers in the region.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Asylum Transit Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 24, 2019 

San Francisco, CA 一 Today, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction preventing the Trump Administration from categorically denying asylum to people fleeing persecution who arrive at the U.S. southern border. The court found that the government’s new rule — the so-called asylum transit ban — would “categorically deny asylum to almost anyone entering the United States at the southern border”. Rejecting all of the administration’s major arguments, the court found that Innovation Law Lab, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, and CARECEN “are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Rule is substantively invalid.”

“We are grateful that the court has prevented this arbitrary and capricious new rule,” said Stephen W. Manning, Director at Innovation Law Lab. “Not only was the rule unlawful, it was an immoral attempt to push people fleeing persecution back into harm’s way.” Innovation Law Lab is a nonprofit organization that harnesses the power of technology and lawyers to defend persons fleeing persecution through its asylum defense projects in places such as California, Oregon, Tijuana, New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, and Missouri. 

In a powerfully worded opinion, the federal court held that the government’s new rule was “antithetical” to the asylum statute and “unmoored from the purposes and concerns” of the asylum statute. The Trump administration had argued that the new rule was lawful because it would not put individuals into danger and was consistent with the asylum statute.  The court rejected these arguments. The court found that the organizations — Innovation Law Lab, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, and CARECEN — would suffer harm if the rule were allowed to be implemented. The court reasoned that the asylum transit ban was inconsistent with the design and structure of the asylum statute. The new rule “does virtually nothing to ensure that a third country is a ‘safe option’” and that the government’s own records demonstrate “abundantly why Mexico is not a safe option for many refugees[.]”

The court analyzed the government’s rule against the overwhelming evidence — submitted by the Trump administration itself — that, in the court’s words documented “in exhaustive detail the ways in which those seeking asylum in Mexico are (1) subject to violence and abuse from third parties and government officials, (2) denied their rights under Mexican and international law, and (3) wrongly returned to countries from which they fled persecution.” Notably, the court recognized that “even though this mountain of evidence points one way, the agencies went the other — with no explanation.”

“This ruling is a decision that supports the rule of law and allows the United States to continue fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities,” said Ramon Valdez, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Innovation Law Lab. “People fleeing persecution should not be returned to horrific violence.” The court today restored order to the orderly processing of applicants for asylum, Valdez explained. “Thanks to this decision, tomorrow, we can continue with our nation’s important work of respecting the right of refuge and welcoming families and children fleeing violence to safety.”

LAW LAB MEDIA CONTACT
Ramon Valdez; ramon@innovationlawlab.org; 971-238-1804

Advocates Urge Chief Justice To Make Oregon State Courthouses a Safe Space For All

Portland, OR  ー Last week, the Innovation Law Lab learned, in a letter from the Chief Justice of the State of Oregon, that she has postponed her decision on whether to prohibit ICE arrests in and around Oregon’s state courthouses.  The letter, which was sent from Chief Justice Martha Walters to Bryan Wilcox, ICE’s Acting Field Office Director, explains that “the courthouse arrests that ICE is continuing to make are continuing to have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.”  But rather than put a stop to the arrests by making a rule that prohibits them, the Chief Justice requested a meeting with Wilcox “to discuss further measures that could be instituted to ensure that Oregonians have access to justice.” The Chief Justice does not explain in her letter what those “further measures” might include.

In December 2018, the Law Lab and the ACLU of Oregon, on behalf of a coalition of several other petitioning organizations, formally petitioned the Chief Justice to issue an emergency rule prohibiting ICE arrests at or near our state courthouses.  The rule is aimed at putting a stop to all immigration arrests that take place while an individual is going to, attending, or returning from court.  It is grounded in an ancient, common-law rule that the Oregon Supreme Court has recognized for decades.  The purpose of the rule is two-fold: to protect individual rights to access legitimate and necessary courthouse services without interference, and to protect the administration of justice by our state courts.  Under Oregon law, the Chief Justice has the authority to issue emergency rules to protect the administration of justice, protect individual rights to access justice, and maintain decorum in courthouses across the state. 

Last week’s letter is part of an ongoing inquiry that the Chief Justice is undertaking in response to the Law Lab’s petition.  Since the petition was filed, ICE arrests at Oregon’s state courthouses have continued unabated, many involving the use physical force by ICE agents against individuals, their families, and bystanders.  Plainclothes ICE agents generally have refused to present any warrant for making an arrest, or to provide individuals with access to an attorney, even if one is present. ICE’s activities have caused widespread fear ー by noncitizens and citizens alike ー for the safety and security of Oregon’s immigrant communities, especially communities of color.  The activities have significantly disrupted the ability of our state courts to administer justice and to fully protect our individual rights. And, under well-settled state law, ICE’s activities are illegal.

Innovation Law Lab and the ACLU of Oregon are continuing to urge the Chief Justice to act ー and to act quickly.  We are working together with our coalition of petitioning organizations, including Adelante Mujeres, Causa Oregon, Immigration Counseling Service, Metropolitan Public Defender, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, Unite Oregon, and the Victim Rights Law Center, to urge Chief Justice Walters to immediately issue a rule that makes our state courthouses a safe space for all Oregonians. 

At this juncture, we could use your help ー if you have a personal story to share, have in any way been impacted by ICE’s activities, or want more information on what you can do in response, please contact Nadia Dahab, pro bono attorney for the Innovation Law Lab, at ndahab@stollberne.com.

Immigration Court Watch; Community Members Determined to Make the Immigration Courts Accountable

For years, the Atlanta Immigration Court has denied nearly 100% of asylum claims, earning Atlanta the reputation it shares with the Charlotte and El Paso Immigration Courts: that of an “asylum-free” zone. Asylum applicants in Atlanta were 23 times less likely to receive asylum than those outside of the Atlanta jurisdiction between 2014 and 2016, and the rate at which Atlanta immigration judges deny asylum claims coincides with unfair and abusive treatment of asylum seekers, their attorneys, and witnesses.

Georgians have decided that enough is enough. In the past several years, Georgia’s immigrant rights community has launched a workshop for unrepresented asylum seekers, a bond project for immigrants in detention, a sanctuary program for immigrants in Atlanta, an asylum appellate project, an organizing platform for immigration attorneys, and fundraising efforts to expand existing NGOs’ capacity to represent asylum seekers. And now, Georgians have come together to hold Atlanta’s most hostile immigration judges accountable by participating in the piloting of an Immigration Court Watch program.

Observers in Atlanta’s immigration court have witnessed the cold, callous treatment of traumatized asylum-seeking families as they tell their stories of harm. Parents are often reprimanded for their children’s tears during proceedings. Judges have forced respondents to discuss the details of their claims in front of public audiences, retraumatizing the respondents and threatening their privacy. Attorney testimonies confirm that when judges are not disinterested in the testimony of the asylum seekers before them, they are often explosively aggressive, intimidating, and discriminatory, and they have openly discouraged asylum seekers from pursuing their claims. Meanwhile, when complaints are filed with the Executive Office of Immigration Review, they are met with a template response, simultaneously dismissive and opaque. “You’re complaint has been received. Rest assured that it has been dealt with appropriately.” With no meaningful actions taken.

If the Executive Office of Immigration Review will not hold the judges in an immigration court accountable, the community will. It starts with exposing these kinds of behavior, understanding which judges live up to the standards of their position and which judges refuse to do so, and sharing these observations with the world outside immigration court.

The Immigration Court Watch tool offers a platform for recording those observations and comparing them to observations made in immigration courts across the country. The tool will train and educate volunteers about the laws governing immigration court, the history of those laws, and the processes that they observe on a daily basis. It will also encourage court observers across the country to share their expertise and knowledge with fledgling court watch teams in other jurisdictions.

Figures in all corners of the political spectrum readily make the claim that the immigration court system is broken. Often, that claim is followed by speculation and scapegoating. Immigration Court Watch empowers communities to name the ways in which the system fails, and to hold Immigration Courts across the US accountable for providing access to real justice. We will not continue to allow our courts to be used as tools of xenophobia and racism. For decades, the fight to promote real justice in immigration courts has fallen on the most affected communities and a handful of fierce advocates and allies. Enough is enough. Sign up to join an Immigration Court Watch program near you.

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