October 1 marked the official launch of Equity Corps, Oregon’s first universal representation program. Portland, Oregon joins several cities nationwide that have invested in pro bono legal representation programs for individuals in removal proceedings.
There is no right to a court-appointed attorney in immigration court. Represented immigrants in the Portland Immigration Court are nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to win their cases than their unrepresented counterparts. If current rates of representation continue, about 80 percent of unrepresented Oregonians will eventually be ordered deported, many back to potentially dangerous situations.
Though Portland is home to several innovative and dedicated nonprofit immigration legal service providers, the demand for pro bono representation has far exceeded existing capacity. Many Portland residents who cannot afford to pay for an attorney have been left without representation, leading to deportations that tear apart Oregon families and communities. The need for increased legal capacity and collaborative solutions was clear.
Equity Corps is the result of a year-long collaborative effort to research, design, and advocate for a universal representation program. A universal representation committee was convened in late 2017 by Oregon Ready, a statewide immigrants rights coalition, to build a novel model with the potential to eventually scale to serve Oregonians throughout the state.
Support from the City of Portland and Multnomah County took the group’s universal representation concept from vision to reality. “Whether or not you have a lawyer in immigration court is ultimately the most determinative factor in whether or not you win your case,” Jordan Cunnings, attorney at the Innovation Law Lab explained. “It’s a very emotional experience and we are really thrilled to now have the opportunity to support people who are at risk of removal here in Oregon.”
To access Equity Corps services, start by finding a Community Navigator near you.
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, Innovation Law Lab, Transformative Immigration Law Class at Lewis & Clark Law School, and Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
Stephen Manning, founder and executive director of the Innovation Law Lab, has been selected as a 2018 Child 10 awardee, in recognition of his groundbreaking legal work which has increased representation and improved outcomes for asylum-seeking families.
Since its founding in 2014, the Innovation Law Lab has played a key role in building and supporting several pro bono representation projects for asylum seekers. “The principle of refuge in the US is at risk where a few individual attorneys are working alone on the ground, facing impossible challenges,” the Child 10 committee wrote, “As a result, many winnable cases are lost. The Innovation Law Lab uses technology to create a system where thousands of individuals can remotely help the few people on the ground.”
Each year, the Child 10 Summit recognizes and convenes ten individuals from around the world whose innovative work has improved the lives of the most vulnerable children in our communities. The other U.S.-based recipients this year included Jonathan Jayes-Green of UndocuBlack Network, Jonathan Ryan of RAICES, Lenni Benson of the Safe Passage Project, and Nora Phillips of Al Otro Lado.
November 9, 2018 – The Innovation Law Lab (Law Lab) is one of four immigrant rights organizations who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s proclamation rendering all immigrants who crossed the southern border without inspection ineligible for asylum.
The Law Lab uses data, design, and legal strategies to support asylum seekers and provides technical and strategic support to pro bono and non-profit attorneys around the country, and operates several large-scale pro bono projects at many hostile jurisdictions throughout the country. Each year, tens of thousands of individuals rely on the Law Lab’s expertise and support systems. The new asylum rule will have an immediate and devastating effect on the asylum seekers served by the Law Lab, many of whom will be at risk of swift deportation back to the harm they are fleeing.
This recent proclamation is part of the Trump Administration’s larger plan to drastically limit all forms of immigration and decimate asylum eligibility. According to Stephen Manning, Executive Director of the Law Lab, this rule will “immediately create a population of detained individuals who are in danger of immediate removal to countries where their lives are under threat.”
Asylum law has deep international humanitarian roots. It is a life-saving form of legal protection for those escaping countries with governments that actively persecute their citizens or lack the power and authority to protect their citizens from persecution. In alignment with international principles, it has long been U.S. policy to allow anyone physically present in the country to seek asylum, regardless of their manner of entry.
The Innovation Law Lab and fellow plaintiffs, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (ESBC) in Berkeley, Al Otro Lado in San Diego, and Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in Los Angeles, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
Oregon has a long, shameful history of racial exclusion and oppression. When Oregon became part of the union in 1859, it was explicitly “whites only.” A few years earlier, Oregon passed the infamous “lash law,” dictating that all non-white Oregonians were to be whipped twice a year until they left the state. A 1862 law required Chinese and Hawaiian immigrants and black residents to pay an annual tax to the state; if they couldn’t pay, they were forced into road maintenance crews. In the 1920’s, the state had the highest per capita KKK membership in the country, and law enforcement and city leaders publicly affiliated themselves with the organization.
Oregon’s recent history is not much better. In 1977, police regularly detained perceived immigrants, refusing to let them go until INS could review their documentation (a process which could often take days). On January 9th of that year, Delmiro Trevino, a US citizen of Mexican descent, was interrogated at the Hi Ho Restaurant in Independence, OR. He was grabbed by a deputy and forced to stand in the center of the restaurant in front of other customers, and was released only after he was identified as a “long-time resident” of Independence.
A 2010 report to Portland’s Human Rights Commission found that Multnomah County’s communities of color had “alarming disparities across all systems and institutions, with trends worsening through time.” In 2016, statewide unemployment and poverty rates were shown to be higher for Latino than white Oregonians. In 2018, Ana del Rocia, a Latina elected official, was arrested after a routine TriMet fare check escalated based on a dispute about her name.
Oregon’s Disentanglement Statute (ORS 181A.820) helped forge a path toward a more inclusive Oregon. The statute prohibits local law enforcement from detaining or apprehending someone based solely on their perceived immigration status, focusing limited local resources and money on investigating and preventing crime. Instead of repealing ORS 181A.820, as Measure 105 seeks to do, efforts should be made to strengthen this law.
Protecting Oregon’s communities of color makes everyone safer. Research has repeatedly shown that when communities of color don’t trust law enforcement, everyone suffers. Fear of deportation prevents immigrants, documented or not, from reporting crimes and cooperating with law enforcement. The Woodburn police chief has expressed concern that his department would be negatively affected, were Measure 105 to pass, explaining “it would have a significant impact on the quality of life of our community if the majority of the population quit interacting with police.” A clear division between local law enforcement and federal immigration efforts is essential in reducing crime and protecting communities. Furthermore, research shows that disentanglement policies correspond with a higher level of economic well-being.
Measure 105 threatens a return to the show-me-your-papers era of Oregon’s racist past. Oregon is now a battleground for laws that limit local government cooperation with ICE. Measure 105 is backed by a national anti-immigrant hate group, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR is engaged in a nationwide effort to undermine and attack disentanglement laws, end birthright citizenship, and exclude immigrants and their children from full and fair participation in our democracy and social institutions. Oregon was a bellwether state 31 years ago when it passed the country’s first disentanglement law. Defeating Measure 105 will signal that Oregon will not be deterred in protecting and defending the rights of its residents.
“It has been seven months since I left my country, and I do not know what has become of my wife and children because I have not been able to communicate with them… I feel a deep anguish with every passing day. I pray to God and hope that I will soon leave this prison.”
“Desde que salí de mi país hace siete meses que no se nada de mi familia, de mis hijos y de mi esposa, por falta de comunicación. Es una angustia muy difícil en la que me encuentro dia con dia. Pero le pido a Dios que todo esté bien y que pronto salga de esta prisión.”
Through community support of the Bond+ Fund, we have raised over $11,500, leading to the release of two individuals, Carlos and Abdoulaye, whose bonds totalled $8,500. Today, Carlos and Abdoulaye are free from detention and united with their families and friends.
There are still two men inside facing costly bonds with limited resources and several more awaiting decisions on bond who may need assistance very soon.
Erin, an asylum seeker from Honduras, and Hamidou, an asylum seeker from Mauritania, remain in Sheridan, each facing a steep $7,500 bond.
The total amount we need to pay Erin and Hamidou’s bonds is $15,000. As of today, we have approximately $3,000 remaining in the Bond+ Fund. With your help, we can raise the $12,000 more needed to free Erin and Hamidou from Sheridan.
Measure 105 seeks to repeal ORS 181A.820, Oregon’s disentanglement law, frequently called the state’s “sanctuary” law. The statute is 31-years-old and was passed with broad bipartisan support and support from law enforcement. It allows local law enforcement to investigate crime and to seek out information about suspects, while directing their resources away from biased policing, racial profiling and immigration enforcement activities. By prohibiting the use of local resources to detect or apprehend immigrants whose only alleged violation of law is an immigration violation, the statute provides clear guidance to law enforcement serving Oregon’s diverse communities.
ORS 181A.820, the law Measure 105 would repeal, was passed in response to rampant racial profiling in rural communities. Prior to the passage of ORS 181A.820, it was common practice for law enforcement to go to areas with significant Hispanic populations and arbitrarily arrest and detain people until they could prove their citizenship or legal residency. In 1977, Delmiro Trevino, a US citizen of Mexican descent, was publicly interrogated by a group of police officers at the Hi Ho Restaurant in Independence, Oregon. Trevino reported the incident to attorney Rocky Barilla, who filed a class action lawsuit based on Oregon law enforcement’s racially discriminatory practices. The lawsuit paved the way for the creation and subsequent adoption of Oregon’s disentanglement statute.
Measure 105 was authored by an out-of-state anti-immigrant think tank called the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR boasts close ties to white supremacist organizations and has long track record of supporting anti-immigrant initiatives. Measure 105 is just one of several initiatives that FAIR created to repeal disentanglement laws nationwide; Oregon is the only state that put it on the ballot, making our state a battleground in the nationwide fight to preserve these laws.
Measure 105 is only supported by two organizations, yet opposed by over 400 organizations and law enforcement professionals. The principal supporters of the measure are FAIR and Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), both of which have been designated anti-immigrant hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Opponents of the measure include over 400 law enforcement professionals, district attorneys, advocacy groups, and businesses, including the ACLU of Oregon, AFL-CIO, Nike, and Columbia Sportswear.
If Measure 105 is passed, it will have disastrous effects on community safety. Repealing the disentanglement law leaves space for racial profiling and discrimination, and decreases trust between communities of color and local law enforcement. Research has consistently shown that when immigrant communities do not trust local law enforcement, they are less likely to report a crime if they are a victim or a witness, thus leading to a widespread public safety crisis.
In mid-September, Abdoulaye and Carlos received the good news that ICE had granted them parole, pending payment of bond. Detention was coming to an end and the unification with their families and communities was about to begin.
But the bond was so high.
And that is when Oregonians came together to contribute to the Bond+ Fund. Between donations from individuals and churches, enough money was raised to post bond for Carlos and Abdoulaye. And on Wednesday, October 3, they walked out of Sheridan.
“I could hardly believe it,” Carlos said. “A guard came to my cell and said, ‘you’re leaving now.’ I only had time to say goodbye to my cellmate.”
The day after Carlos was released from Sheridan, he asked to attend a gathering, as part of the Sheridan to NORCOR march organized by the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ), Rural Organizing Project (ROP), Causa, and other organizations.
He took the stage to share his story and thank advocates and volunteers for their tireless work on behalf of the many men detained at Sheridan. “I am here with this group to raise my voice for my companions that are still in prison… Hopefully they will soon all be free.”
In late May, 123 immigrants were detained at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, simply because they came to the United States to seek asylum. By early August, every individual represented by the Law Lab won his claim to stay in the country to pursue asylum.
After many court hearings, pleas, public appeals, and direct action, 87% of the men in Sheridan have been released from detention. However, like elsewhere in the country, many individuals remain detained despite having won their credible fear claims and having bona fide grounds for release.
We are turning to you, our community, for partnership to secure the release of the asylum-seeking individuals who remain detained and to support them in uniting with their families and communities. But we also need your partnership in moving beyond bond.
The mass detention apparatus of the Trump Administration uses a flawed and immoral bond system. The bond system creates untenable stresses on families and communities and is at odds with our values as a nation.
So this cannot only be a bond fund. This fund will also develop a prototype for a new system to replace the flawed and oppressive power dynamic of the current bond process.
Our experience at Sheridan and in detention centers across the country underscores the need for an alternative to bond. As we fight for the release from detention for those still detained, let us create a legacy that extends beyond this moment in time, and envision a world in which mass detention ceases to exist.
Innovation Law Lab, together with attorneys from Oregon Law Center, recently obtained a victory for the taxpayers in Wasco County who seek to an end of the ICE contract and other immigration enforcement activity prohibited by state law in their four-county jail. The jail, NORCOR, objected for months to delivering records demonstrating local law enforcement assistance with federal immigration enforcement. Citing 8 C.F.R. § 236.6, NORCOR made a blanket refusal to turn over documents, sought to claw back those it had already turned over, and refused to answer questions in depositions about the material.
The regulation, 8 C.F.R. § 236.6, prohibits public disclosure of the names and other identifying information of individuals held in detention by ICE. Plaintiffs contend that there is a significant difference between public disclosure, such a FOIA request or similar public records request, and documents sought in a lawsuit. The Wasco County Court agreed and ordered NORCOR to produce the documents, concluding “[t[hat regulation does not apply to requests for discovery in litigation.”
The Court also confirmed that where a local law enforcement agency or other party holds documents sent to it by a government agency, the Touhy regulations do not apply. The Court reasoned that because NORCOR “is not a federal agency or a current or former federal employee,” the Plaintiffs may obtain documents directly from NORCOR.
Innovation Law Lab applauds our clients in demanding transparency and accountability at NORCOR, and hopes this ruling assists other jurisdictions in understanding the correct scope of 8 C.F.R. § 236.6.
A few weeks before I began my internship at the Innovation Law Lab, a nonprofit based in Oregon that provides legal services to immigrants and refugees, I was both nervous and skeptical about beginning the work. Nervous, because I was an undergraduate majoring in anthropology who knew next to nothing about refugee law; skeptical, because, in the few years I’d spent in the United States, I’d learned how the rule of law is often employed as a smokescreen for institutionalized racism – from Nixon’s targeting of impoverished communities of color in his war on drugs, to the systemic brutality black men face at the hands of police today.
But the day I began my internship, I watched as the Innovation Law Lab scored a major legal victory in its suit against the Department of Homeland Security, winning a temporary restraining order that granted it access to the federal prison in Oregon where over a hundred immigrants were being detained. That day, I saw the rule of law being applied to ensure the dignity and security of over a hundred men who had been treated by the current administration as less than human, incarcerated without trial or conviction in blatant violation of their constitutional rights. And after that day, I worked with the Law Lab and saw several of those men through from their know your rights training, to their credible fear interviews (where their eligibility for asylum is determined), to their eventual release.
My internship is coming to a close, and I’ll admit I leave with a continued ambivalence towards the institution of the law in the United States. Its founding principles, couched in a language of equal rights and humanism, also effectively excluded indigenous and black Americans from its protections; nevertheless, those same principles have been rearticulated by activists of color to actually stand for the defense and dignity of all human beings. And with respect to immigration – on the one hand, the continued jurisdiction the executive branch has over immigration courts in the US allows decisions such as who qualifies for asylum to be swayed by the whims of whichever administration has power; on the other hand, the very principles of international refugee law were a powerful response to the atrocities of the Holocaust, holding nation-states accountable to ideals larger than the span of their individual territories.
But I’ve realized, too, that I started this internship missing a key point – forgetting that, as indomitable and opaque institutions such as the justice system may seem, they are ultimately forged from social relationships, and thus within our power to change. I think of Marx’s concept of alienation, where relationships between people are reinscribed as relationships between things, and where we subsequently forget the ways we are involved in the systems we inhabit. It’s this same alienation which prevented me from imagining the rule of law used as a tool for compassion – as a way to guarantee the safety of immigrants and the rights of refugees.
I’m frustrated, now, when headlines refer to the massive movement of migrants in response to persecution and strife as a “crisis” with murky origins – frustrated at the way it renders mass swathes of human beings into a problem to be solved or a security issue to be dealt with. And with the turns in the United States towards nativism and jingoism in response to the continuing arrival of refugees, I see a profound alienation at work. Because it’s not about the dilution of an abstract national identity or the supposed influx of a wave of criminals – no, how we respond to those who arrive at the border seeking safety and refuge is not a question of security, but a question of humanity.
So I guess, in other ways, immigration is a crisis – but a crisis of compassion. It’s a challenge to us to imagine a world where one’s fundamental rights are not dictated by the borders of one’s nation-state, the language on one’s passport, or the color of one’s skin. And it’s a challenge to the way we envision the institutions we hold dear – do we continue to employ the rule of law as a thinly veiled instrument of racism and sexism (as in Jeff Sessions’s decision to make it more difficult for Central and South Americans fleeing domestic violence to seek asylum), or do we fight for its just application (as in current litigation to have a private prison in Oregon stop its detainment of refugees) and for its empathetic reform?
Moving forward, too, we will have to confront the inadequacies of international refugee law, even as its just application has safeguarded millions from persecution. Can we, for example, recognize the ways in which economic disparities are also forms of global violence – say, expanding the current call to reunite families separated at the border to recognize the trauma faced by families also torn apart in places as varied as Nicaragua and the Philippines due to the demands of a remittance-based economy? Can we begin to prepare – with compassion – for the mass migrations that will result due to extreme changes in climate throughout the globe?
Perhaps much of this reform seems beyond imagining. Meaningful change in immigration law has stalled consistently in the United States due to partisanship and political polarization. But to say it is impossible is to forget that we are both participants in and drivers of social institutions; it is to resign ourselves to the way things are; it is to refuse to dream.
And in the wake of an increasing cynicism at the failure of globalization to deliver on its supposed promises of equity and prosperity; in the return to a rhetoric of racist nationalism among many countries in the West; international refugee law still stands as a powerful testament to our ability to imagine a humanity larger than ourselves and our borders. But we can do better, still – for today’s refugees and for the refugees of the future – so dream we must.
This blog post was written by Ethan Chua. Ethan was a summer intern at the Innovation Law Lab and is a junior at Stanford University studying anthropology. He is a published comic book writer and spoken word poet. This post was originally published on the Stanford Urban Studies & Urban Summer Fellowship blog.