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.”
by Stephen W Manning, Executive Director at the Innovation Law Lab and Mat Dos Santos, Legal Director at the ACLU of Oregon
In late May 2018, the Trump Administration imprisoned Karandeep Singh, and hundreds other men like him, because he had fled to the United States to seek asylum. The administration’s goal, as President Donald Trump stated, was to “immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases bring them back from where they came.”
Mass imprisonment and rapid deportation are supposed to be the new norm because, according to the president, immigrants “are animals.” The Trump Administration is actualizing its immoral and unlawful plan to deport immigrant communities of color en masse. Immigrants with legitmate asylum claims are being deported faster and in larger numbers than we’ve seen before.
Like more than 120 other asylum seekers, the administration locked Karandeep in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, denied him access to lawyers – and therefore the law – and then was going to immediately deport him in spite of his legitimate claim to asylum. That was supposed to be it.
Oregonians came together to provide necessary support for these asylum seekers in the best ways we each know how. We came together in the courts, on the streets, in the headlines, in our community, fighting for these men on both sides of Sheridan’s walls.
Grassroots organizations working within the Rights Architecture in Oregon deployed their best strategies, with their best hearts, and their clearest thinking to collectively defend Karandeep and all the men immorally imprisoned in Sheridan in order to build sustainable, inclusionary pathways for Oregon and everywhere.
Unidos Bridging Community, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ), the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) and others built solidarity outside the detention center with everyone inside the detention center through vigils, marches, and and public manifestations of connection, support, and hope. These actions kept what was happening in Sheridan in the headlines and in public consciousness, letting the men know the community supports them and letting the government know that their actions don’t align with Oregon’s values.
The ACLU of Oregon – in collaboration with attorneys from Stoll Berne – as well as the Federal Public Defender of Oregon broke open the Trump Administration’s attempt to isolate Karandeep and others from the law by fighting the government in federal court. The successful lawsuit finally paved the way for the asylum seekers to have access to attorneys from the Innovation Law Lab.
APANO, ROP, Unidos, and the newly-formed ICE out of Sheridan group established a special post-detention respite network to provide a welcoming einvironment and transportation from the doors of the detention center to a safe, sheltered, dignified space, allowing the men to recover from detention and build plans for onward travel to their family and sponsors. This crucial support network engaged several religious organizations, like the Dasmesh Darbar Sikh Temple to St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, and dozens of community members.
And Oregon Ready, a statewide coalition of community organizations, collectivized attention on developing a lasting policy resolution to end asylum-seeker incarceration at federal prisons.
Karandeep’s journey is only partially complete. And many more immigrants of color are still confined within Sheridan and other facilites around the country. Yet when Karandeep walked out of Sheridan on August 21, he won an important victory in the long journey to protect the rule of law.
The Trump Administration hatched a plan to deport as many immigrants as fast as they could. Their plan involves building the apparatus of mass incarceration, creating vast shadows of stigma over the immigrant community, and eliminating courts. When the administration decided to incarcerate more than 120 asylum-seeking men in the Sheridan federal prison, they were implementing a plan to stigmatize, incarcerate, and then rapidly deport. It was a pre-ordained conclusion.
Well, that was until you stepped in.
A month ago, the ACLU of Oregon filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Innovation Law Lab and our client, Luis Javier Sanchez Gonzalez, in order for the Law Lab to obtain access to a single node in the apparatus of mass incarceration, the federal detention center in Sheridan, Oregon. Last week, the federal court granted a preliminary injunction securing our continued access. The Law Lab promised to represent everyone who needed and wanted a lawyer. Everyone.
And that simple promise broke the rapid deportation system in place at Sheridan. Although everyone was supposed to have been deported by now, every person represented by the Law Lab’s pro bono teams on the merits has won their fear claim. Everyone. And now it is time to get them out of detention and back with their families where they belong.
Since late June, more than 100 volunteers have:
Completed 101 legal screenings
Conducted 202 legal meetings
Defended clients at 85 credible fear interviews
Initiated release applications for every client
All of this in 9 languages
And WON every single fear claim. Every claim.
These men are still inside Sheridan. People who stood up for their beliefs, even when it put them in harm’s way. People who fled persecution from places like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mauritania. People seeking refuge from violent political battles playing out in different places in the world.
Today the first applications for release were filed. You can continue to support our efforts by making a gift, signing up to be part of the post-detention respite network, and joining public actions hosted by local advocacy organizations.
Thank you to the volunteers who have showed up in Sheridan and given their all and to the community members who have joined in marches and vigils, assuring the voices from Sheridan are heard. And special thanks to our community organization partners: the ACLU of Oregon, AILA, APANO, Causa, IMIrJ, and Unidos Bridging Community.
The Trump Administration sent immigrants to Sheridan in an attempt to deport them, to shut them off from legal counsel and the outside world. But because of YOU we have been able to alter the course of mass deportation in Sheridan, Oregon.
Today marks a crucial legal victory for Innovation Law Lab, as Judge Michael H. Simon granted our motion for a preliminary injunction, ensuring our clients detained in Sheridan continue to have access to legal counsel.
At the time of today’s hearing, 74 out of the 80 clients represented by the Innovation Law Lab had received positive determinations in their credible fear interviews. One client opted to forego his interview and return to his country of origin. Five decisions, for interviews that occured late last week, had yet to be issued.
The judge’s initial temporary restraining order undoubtedly had an effect on the efficacy of the credible fear process. Prior to his June 25 order, Innovation Law Lab attorneys, staff, and volunteers had been turned away from the facility numerous times, despite attempts to schedule visits with Bureau of Prisons and Immigration & Customs Enforcement staff ahead of time.
Once the court mandated access, the Innovation Law Lab quickly mobilized to provide “Know Your Rights” presentations to the majority of those detained, conduct over 100 screening interviews, hold over 150 additional one-on-one meetings, and enter into pro bono representation agreements with 80 individuals.
As the order expired this month, the Innovation Law Lab and our counsel, the ACLU of Oregon and Stoll Berne, made the decision to move forward in seeking a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction assures that our attorneys and volunteers will continue to have regular access to meet with our clients in Sheridan, and assure that clients are not transferred to other facilities without our prior consent.
While the credible fear interview positive determinations mark a key step forward in our clients’ cases, there is still more work for attorneys, interpreters, and legal assistants to do. Ultimately, this preliminary injunction will allow us to move forward unimpeded with the important work of securing release for the immigrants being detained in Sheridan.
Iranian-American poet Solmaz Sharif writes “It matters what you call a thing.” Chalked into a Portland sidewalk beside makeshift tents at an Abolish ICE rally is the phrase “no human is illegal.” In court proceedings,representatives for the Department of Homeland Security referred to the immigrants detained at Sheridan as “aliens.”
Working as an intern at the Innovation Law Lab over the past several weeks, I’ve tried to keep at the top of my mind the central absurdity that we’re fighting – the fact that over a hundred immigrants are being held in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon as a result of the policies of the current administration. And I’ve turned to Solmaz Sharif’s writing to try and understand why this is happening, to move beyond my initial feelings of indignation and outrage.
Because of her poetry, I’m reminded that names matter. Illegal or undocumented. Inmate or immigrant. Alien or refugee. Names matter because they reveal who we consider as human, who we believe is deserving of basic freedoms and constitutional rights.
In my mind, the atrocities of Sheridan – while horrifying – did not emerge out of nowhere. These atrocities required a systematic process of dehumanization, one in which refugees of color fleeing persecution could be classified as criminal, illegal, and undeserving of protection even before they arrived on United States soil.
The workings of this process can be found in the acts of definition which saturate court hearings, where the meaning of a name has high stakes – where what Attorney General Jeff Sessions considers “a particular social group” can affect the fates of thousands of Central and South Americans fleeing gang violence; where what constitutes the beginning of “removal proceedings” can determine who gets to speak to the immigrants being held at Sheridan. The workings of this process can be traced to the moments where a human being becomes an alien, where an asylum seeker becomes an illegal, where a refugee becomes a migrant who didn’t do it the right way.
And in light of this systematic dehumanization of individuals seeking protection from violence and persecution, it is our task to continue to imagine a more radical definition of the human – one which includes immigrants, instead of turning them away.
This post was written by Ethan Chua, summer intern at Innovation Law Lab. Ethan is a junior at Stanford University, where he studies anthropology, linguistics, and poetry.
Photo: Victoria Bejarano Muirhead (Innovation Law Lab), Keith Ketterling (Stolll Berne), Nadia Dahab (Stoll Berne), Leland Baxter-Neal (ACLU of Oregon), Chris Nicholson (Innovation Law Lab), Ethan Chua (Innovation Law Lab)
Today marks 18 days since the court granted the Innovation Law Lab access to provide legal counsel to the immigrants detained at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.
“It is a core principle of the United States that no person in this country should be imprisoned without due process of law,” noted Stephen Manning, Executive Director of the Innovation Law Lab, “The court order has been crucial to identifying and remedying issues related to legal access.”
Every day, from June 26 onward, the Innovation Law Lab has had a legal presence at the Sheridan facility. In a status conference today, we had the opportunity to provide an update on the work that has occurred since:
113 individuals received Know Your Rights presentations (we did not meet with individuals who at the time of initial access indicated they had private counsel)
16 individuals have so far indicated they have private counsel or have declined counsel
85 individuals have received one-on-one screening interviews
40 individuals have received follow up consultations
44 formal appearances of counsel have been filed, with more to be submitted over the weekend
Additionally, the Bureau of Prisons has agreed to modify their process for passing legal documents to inmates to more closely align with ICE detention standards. Starting Monday, July 16, attorneys and legal assistants will be able to pass legal documents in a #10 envelope to clients during legal visits.
Typical BOP policy would require documents to go through a drop box for review, significantly impeding a client’s ability to prepare for an interview or complete legal documents on his own.
The small adjustment will have a significant impact on our ability to serve our clients as they prepare for credible fear interviews, which are due to start next week.
Two weeks ago, I spent my first day inside a detention center. As a long-time volunteer with the Innovation Law Lab, I heard many stories from detention, shared by immigrants and advocates alike. But to finally be in a detention center and meet the individuals held there has given me a new sense of scope.
It may sound apparent, but every person inside Sheridan has a story, a family, a home. Each of them made the decision to leave their homes and families and travel thousands of miles to a new place in search of safety, for themselves and, for many, their families. Each of them is scared and confused as to why after coming all this way, they are here, in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.
On the other side of the prison wall is a community that wants to help. This week we were able to utilize over 25 on-the-ground volunteers and complete “Know Your Rights” presentations for all previously-unrepresented immigrants at Sheridan!
During what has been an incredibly challenging time, we have been kept afloat by the brave individuals in Sheridan and our remarkable supporters. For all of you, I am grateful and truly humbled by the depth of your compassion in the face of very dark circumstances.
On Monday, June 25, a federal judge granted emergency relief to allow pro bono attorneys to provide legal counsel to the 121 individuals detained in Sheridan, Oregon.
This ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Oregon and Stoll Berne on behalf of the Innovation Law Lab and Luis Javier Sanchez Gonzalez, one of the individuals detained at the federal prison in Sheridan. The suit was brought after repeated denials by ICE and the Bureau of Prisons to allow pro bono attorneys and legal assistants with the Innovation Law Lab meet with individuals in detention and provide Know Your Rights presentations.
Luis Javier, an asylum seeker who was separated from his partner, his five-year-old son, and 18-month-old daughter upon arriving in the United States, has spent nearly a month at FCI Sheridan. When given the opportunity to call his family for a three-minute call, he took the opportunity to ask for a lawyer.
For individuals seeking asylum, access to counsel can be the difference between life and death. And in the era of family separation, counsel can be critical to facilitating the reunification of families fractured at the border.
SHERIDAN, Ore. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and Innovation Law Lab said today that pro bono legal teams were again denied access to the federal prison in Sheridan where 121 asylum seekers are currently being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The groups wrote a letter to ICE earlier this week demanding access to the detainees.
“I am shocked that our legal teams were turned away again,” said Mat dos Santos. “Local ICE officials keep telling us we can meet with the detainees, but when we go to the prison we are turned away. This is unacceptable.”
The groups said that they notified ICE last night that they would send a team today to visit four detainees who have requested legal representation. This afternoon, the first legal team was turned away at the gate during the visiting hours and denied access to the detainees. Another pro bono legal team was scheduled to give a “Know Your Rights” presentation to some of the detainees this evening, but they were also turned away at the gate. A group of six clergy and faith leaders were also turned away from entering the prison today.
Dos Santos said he is also disturbed by reports of conditions at the prison including detainees being confined to their cells over 22 hours per day as well as a scabies outbreak.
“The men who are being detained by ICE at Sheridan prison are suffering,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. “We will not stop fighting to get pro bono attorneys in to meet with the detained men. Sheridan clearly is ill-equipped to house immigrant detainees and the local ICE staff seems to be in way over their heads.”
The asylum seekers were sent to Oregon during the unprecedented move of 1,600 ICE detainees to federal prisons in five states earlier this month. The ACLU of Oregon submitted a FOIA request this week seeking information on the decision to move the people now at the federal prison in Sheridan and any policies or guidelines for handling the detention of immigrants there. They are also seeking information about whether detainees are being allowed to locate and contact their missing family members.
The 121 detained men are from 16 countries and speak 13 languages. Advocates believe that they have been in detention since mid-May after being detained while seeking asylum at southern border.
This post was originally published by the ACLU of Oregon here.
Today, we sent a team of pro bono lawyers to FCI Sheridan. And once again ICE denied our entire team of pro bono lawyers access to the asylum-seeking men they have hidden inside a federal penitentiary.
Why is this happening?
The Trump Administration has chosen to use the immense weapon of incarceration and family separation to punish and terrorize immigrants, particularly immigrants from communities of color. The law never required that these men be detained; the law never required that these families be separated; and the law certainly never required — in fact, it is rather unprecedented — that these men be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.
But in the deportation process, when people are detained and hidden deportations come fast and easy. Keep them hidden. Keep them isolated. If no one cares, then it is as if it never happened at all. Right?
And that’s the mistake the Trump Administration made.
They weren’t expecting hundreds of Oregonians to step up and say: we are in this to win it. Unique in the United States, Oregonians–hundreds of you– have promised to defend these men in the courts, their families, the law of asylum — and by that simple Constitutional fact of due process and fairness, you are defending the rule of law and democracy.
What’s next & what can you do now?
Be ready. As soon as we open access–and we will–things will happen very very fast and you will need to be available. We cannot say when yet.
Learn about asylum. We’ve developed an online training curriculum to show you the basics.
Learn why the role of counsel in rapid removals is so important.
Be well & more soon,
The Sheridan Pro Bono Project
Chanpone Sinlapasai, Eileen Sterlock, Stephen Manning, Caroline van der Harten, Luis Garcia