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Innovation Law Lab statement following “Remain in Mexico” court hearing

Full text of remarks:

Hello everyone, I’m P.J. Podesta. I’m an Advocacy Coordinator for Innovation Law Lab based in Oakland, California.

Today I am in San Francisco, where a very important case, with the potential to impact thousands of asylum seekers, was just heard in federal court. The case is now being adjudicated and we hope to hear a decision soon.

The case is called Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen. Innovation Law Lab is the lead plaintiff, joined by several other organizations and 11 asylum seekers. We brought this lawsuit to overturn the Trump Administration’s unprecedented policy of forcing asylum seekers to return to Mexico as their cases move through immigration court.

The policy we are challenging is called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” sometimes referred to as MPP for short. The name is cruel and misleading – it is actually very dangerous to migrants. MPP is the latest attempt by the Trump Administration to deter asylum seekers from exercising their right to seek refuge in a safe country.

Why is the policy dangerous? It is well documented that migrants face danger and exploitation at the border. By forcing asylum seekers back to the border, the federal government is knowingly placing them in harm’s way. MPP is in direct violation of the humanitarian protections to which immigrants are guaranteed under not only U.S, but international, law as well.

Here’s a little background on the history of MPP. It was implemented in late January. Since then, asylum seekers have been sent back from the U.S. to Mexico on an almost daily basis. In mid-February, it was reported that not only were adults being affected by this policy, but so were children.

As soon as Innovation Law Lab and fellow legal advocates learned about this new policy, attorneys and staff went to the border to begin identifying and interviewing people affected by it. The testimonies we collected formed the basis of the case that will be heard today in court. The lawsuit was filed on February 14, 2019.

Earlier this week, the first wave of asylum seekers affected by this policy had their first court hearings. They were required to show up at Tijuana-San Diego border, where they were sent through security and were then taken into government custody to be shuttled to immigration court.

I want to tell you about one of the asylum seekers I met in Tijuana who had been sent back as a result of this policy. I met him just as he had been forcibly returned. I will never forget the mixture of shock and fear on his face.

After enduring brutal violence, he fled his home country and traveled 2,000 miles through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. In Tijuana, he was forced to wait for Customs & Border Patrol – or CBP – to allow him to ask for asylum. While he waited in a temporary shelter, he witnessed a murder, then witnessed local police do nothing to stop the assailant. Soon after, he came across body parts discarded in a nearby trash can. Surrounded by such violence, he anxiously looked forward to the day when he would be admitted to the U.S. to seek asylum.

When he was finally allowed by U.S. officials to cross the border, he was taken to what is often called a hielera, or an “icebox.” The hielera is a holding cell kept at near-freezing temperatures. Every asylum seeker, regardless of their gender, age, or health conditions passes through these hieleras when they enter the U.S.

Immigration officers rigorously questioned him, but did not once ask if he was afraid to return to Mexico. He told me afterwards that if he had been given the opportunity, he would have absolutely told them that he was afraid to return. Then – without knowing what was happening – he suddenly found himself handcuffed and returned by van to Tijuana.

I will never forget what he told me: “I am just as afraid of being in Mexico as I was in my home country.”

His story is harrowing, but unfortunately, it is not unique. Many of the migrants we met in Tijuana, including the 11 asylum seekers that join us in today’s case as plaintiffs, shared similar stories.

MPP is cut from the same cloth as the so-called “zero tolerance” policy. It is designed to cause chaos and confusion, to keep asylum seekers out no matter the cost. Regardless of the facts on the ground, the Trump Administration is now planning to expand this policy to other ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, making this ill-conceived and dangerous experiment more likely the norm.

Today, we stand in solidarity with migrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum. We know that millions of Americans stand in solidarity, too.

I want to take a moment and speak directly to those who stand in solidarity with us today: I know you are outraged at the attacks on migrants perpetrated by Trump Administration. I know you oppose the practices that aim to block the entry of asylum seekers into our country. I know you are horrified by the mass detention of immigrants across our country. And I know you are eager to welcome asylum seekers into your homes and communities. I know that you, like us, imagine a country where humanity wins out over fear.

Today’s lawsuit is an important step in the right direction. It isn’t the first time we’ve challenged the Trump Administration and it probably won’t be the last time. But with your support, Innovation Law Lab will continue to fight against policies rooted in xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism.

Thank you for being part of this fight for human rights.  


Plaintiffs in the suit include Innovation Law Lab, Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Al Otro Lado, Tahirih Justice Center, and 11 asylum seekers affected by the policy in question. Legal counsel is provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS).

For media inquiries about the suit, contact:

Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU, 212-284-7347, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org

Jen Fuson, SPLC, 202-834-6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org

Brianna Krong, CGRS, 415-581-8835, krongbrianna@uchastings.edu

For inquiries about Innovation Law Lab, contact:

Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, 971-801-6047, victoria@innovationlawlab.org

Asylum seekers returned to Mexico fear for their safety, lives

March 19, 2019 – This Friday, Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen will be heard in federal court. The case seeks to overturn the Trump Administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico to await the outcomes of their immigration cases. Since the policy’s implementation in late January, asylum seekers—including children—have been sent back to Mexico almost daily.

Innovation Law Lab attorneys and staff, in partnership with Al Otro Lado and other legal advocacy organizations, have been working at the border to identify and interview asylum seekers who were returned to Mexico. Many of those returned have expressed bewilderment and dread over the prospect of remaining in Tijuana, where migrants routinely face abuse and violence.

Testimony from nearly a dozen asylum seekers formed the basis of the lawsuit filed in federal court on February 14, 2019. Three of those stories are shared below.

Howard Doe

On the journey from Honduras to the U.S. border, Howard Doe recounted narrowly escaping escaping Los Zetas, a drug cartel in Mexico, that kidnapped him and other migrants. “The armed men would intimidate us with their guns and tell us they were going to kill us and burn our bodies so that no could could find our bodies.”

When Howard presented himself at a port of entry to request asylum, he thought he would finally be safe from the reach of Los Zetas. “I told the asylum officer all of this,” he said. “I wanted to refuse to go back to Mexico, but I was afraid that they might punish me for speaking up. I had already said many times that I was afraid to go back to Mexico, and nobody seemed to care.”

Despite sharing his fears with a U.S. immigration officer, Howard was still selected for return to Mexico to await the outcome of his asylum case. Los Zetas is known for torturing and killing those who evade them, and Howard fears that as long as he remains in Mexico, he will be a target.

Bianca Doe

Bianca Doe knows her only option for survival is to petition for asylum in the U.S. “In Honduras, if you are a lesbian, you may as well be dead.”

When Bianca was a teenager, she was raped and became pregnant. “He told me that he did this because I am a lesbian and love women,” she recalled.

Shortly after her son was born, the child’s father sued her for custody. “When we went to court, the judge said that, because of my sexual orientation, I am not a fit mother and would not raise my son correctly… When my family found out that I was a lesbian, they supported my son’s father in the custody battle.”

In spite of the challenges faced by lesbians in Honduras, Bianca found companionship and love with another woman. Once her girlfriend’s father found out about their relationship, he became enraged and beat his daughter. He then drove his daughter and Bianca to a location near the Honduras-Guatemala border. “He parked the car and threatened me that unless I left Honduras, he would kill me and that he would also kill my partner, his daughter,” Bianca said. “I had no choice but to leave. I got out of the car and walked across the border right then and there.”

Prior to presenting herself at a port of entry, Bianca connected with Cristian Sanchez, an attorney at RAICES, who provided her with a letter requesting she not be returned to Mexico, as well as an index of documents on country conditions in Honduras. However, she was never given the opportunity to present these documents or even bring them with her to her interview with an immigration officer.  

Bianca is now living in a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers, where she—like so many others—continues to hope she will one day be admitted into the U.S. “I am alone and I also fear for my safety when I leave the safe house because the border zone is very dangerous, particularly for women and members of the LGBTQ community like me.”

John Doe

An indigenous man from Guatemala, John sought asylum in the U.S. after being threatened and severely beaten by the Ronderos de San Juan, a death squad that controls his hometown. His journey was a difficult one, marked by a close encounter with a drug cartel that boarded a train he was traveling on. “Not only do I feel unsafe here as an asylum seeker, I am afraid that narcotraffickers will find me and kill me… During my entire time on the U.S. side of the border, no one ever asked me if I was afraid of being returned to Mexico.”

John also worries he will not be able to adequately prepare for his asylum hearing. Had he been permitted to remain in the U.S., he could have been released to stay with his family, including U.S.-citizen siblings who live in California. Instead, he remains far from their support with his legal case and more.

John was among the first asylum seekers to be returned to Mexico as a result of the Trump Administration’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols.” He fears for his life and safety as he moves between shelters in Tijuana, Mexico. That fear has only intensified since he was briefly admitted into the United States, with the promise of refuge and reunification with his family, only to be sent back across the border.

To read the suit filed on February 14, 2019, click here.

To read declarations filed by plaintiffs, including the individuals mentioned in this post, click here.

For media inquiries about the suit, contact:

Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU, 212-284-7347, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org

Jen Fuson, SPLC, 202-834-6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org

Brianna Krong, CGRS, 415-581-8835, krongbrianna@uchastings.edu

For inquiries about Innovation Law Lab, contact:

Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, 971-801-6047, victoria@innovationlawlab.org

Organizations Call for Lane County Sheriff to Stop

Assisting Federal Immigration Enforcement

Community members alarmed at cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 1, 2019

CONTACTS:
Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, Innovation Law Lab, victoria@innovationlawlab.org, 971-801-6047

Joel Iboa, Causa Oregon, joel@causaoregon.org, 541-357-7664

EUGENE, Ore.— Legal and social services providers, advocacy groups, and political leaders today submitted a letter to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO), demanding an end to the office’s practice of assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The letter is in response to reports from local attorneys that sheriff’s deputies are instructed to inform ICE when people are to be released from jail. In addition to informing ICE of upcoming releases, the groups say deputies allow ICE special access to the back entrance of the Lane County jail, further facilitating arrests by ICE.

“This situation has, in a moment, undone many, many years of work at trying to build trust and a relationship between the Latinx community and public safety,” said Guadalupe Quinn, president of the board of Grupo Latino de Acción Directa de Lane County (GLAD) and long-time Eugene civil rights leader. “This puts everyone at risk and is so disappointing.”

A 32-year-old Oregon law prohibits state agencies from using state or local resources to assist federal immigration enforcement. The groups say the disentanglement or “sanctuary” statute, the oldest of its kind in the country, clearly makes such cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement unlawful. The law was referred to the ballot last November by an anti-immigrant group, but Oregonians voted by a wide margin to keep the law in place.

“Oregonians, including those residing in Lane County, overwhelmingly voted to protect Oregon’s 32-year-old sanctuary law by defeating Measure 105,” said Andrea Williams, Executive Director at Causa Oregon, chair of the campaign to defeat the attempted roll-back of the law. “Voters sent a clear message that Oregon is a place where we look out for our neighbors.

This week alone, ICE detained someone who was trying to sign up for alcohol treatment by a Court order. Also this week, the Circuit Court had to cancel a trial for a defendant whose family had previously posted bail at the Lane County Jail, only to then be immediately taken into custody by ICE. When ICE interferes with the local court’s ability to order necessary substance abuse treatment or bring cases to trial for defendants who are presumed to be innocent of any wrongdoing, any local cooperation by law enforcement places an undue strain on individuals and families and undermines public safety interests.

“What our local immigration attorneys are reporting is extremely troubling and requires immediate attention,” said David Saez, executive director of Eugene-based immigrant rights group, Centro Latino Americano. “We need to not only follow the letter of the law but we need to make sure we are attending to the spirit of the law. We need a thorough examination into how the ‘sanctuary’ law is being enforced. It is on us to push and demand accountability. It’s a matter of safety and honesty.”

Lane County’s cooperation with ICE shares similarities to the practices at NORCOR, the four-county jail in The Dalles, Oregon. NORCOR’s ICE-related policies resulted in a lawsuit brought by concerned citizens, currently pending in Wasco County. “Oregon’s disentanglement statute was enacted to put an end to practices like this one,” says Erin Pettigrew of Innovation Law Lab, one of the attorneys representing the NORCOR plaintiffs. “The drafters of the law knew that cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement has harmful effects on our community.”

The letter was signed by Causa Oregon, the Eugene Human Rights Commission, Centro Latino Americano, NAACP of Eugene/Springfield, Grupo Latino de Acción Directa of Lane County (GLAD), Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) of Eugene-Springfield, Public Defender Services of Lane County, Community Alliance of Lane County, Integration Network for Immigrants of Lane County (IN), the Democratic Party of Lane County, Sanctuary Temple Beth Israel, ACLU People Power of Eugene-Springfield, ACLU of Oregon, and the Innovation Law Lab.

“Oregon voters just reaffirmed that they don’t approve of local sheriffs acting as an arm of President Trump’s cruel deportation force,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Sheriff Trapp must end this flagrant violation of community trust and the law.”

Read the letter submitted to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office here.

Supreme Court refuses to reinstate Trump’s “asylum ban” – following litigation by Innovation Law Lab and others

December 21, 2018 – In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court refused to allow the Trump Administration to enforce its unlawful “asylum ban” – which aimed to render all immigrants who crossed the southern border without inspection ineligible for asylum.

The Supreme Court ruling follows a preliminary injunction issued in federal district court earlier this week that halted implementation of the ban, labeling it “invalid” and citing the profound harms it would have to those seeking asylum.

The ruling also follows the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to not interfere with the lower district court’s ruling, agreeing with the district court that the ban is likely inconsistent with governing law. Both the Ninth Circuit Court’s and the Supreme Court’s decisions follow an attempt by the Trump Administration to force these courts to stay the district court’s order pending appeal.

These important legal victories stem from a lawsuit brought by the Innovation Law Lab and three other legal services organizations in early November. The suit argues that the president does not have the authority to unilaterally rewrite an immigration statute adopted by Congress which clearly states that those fleeing persecution may apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country.

According to Ian Philabaum, Program Director at the Innovation Law Lab, currently based at the Tijuana-San Diego border, “The ill-conceived and unconstitutional ‘asylum ban’ is an illegal attempt by the Trump Administration to suspend the rule of law. The Innovation Law Lab’s technology and program design are critical to protecting the rights of everyone and securing fair and just treatment for children and families fleeing persecution.”

Philabaum and other staff at the Innovation Law Lab have been forced to divert time and resources into creating stopgap solutions for asylum seekers who have been targeted by the Trump Administration. Among the measures implemented by the Innovation Law Lab is a software tool that enables lawyers, advocates, activists and on-the-ground volunteers to conduct rapid and secure intakes. Use of the tool allows the Innovation Law Lab to measure the extent to which the rule of law is being followed at the border and, later, to connect asylum-seekers with legal resources in the United States.

In the federal court’s ruling, which blocks implementation of the asylum ban,  Judge Jon Tigar specifically cited this rapid response work. “[The Innovation Law Lab] has expended significant resources to send staff to the border as it attempts to shift its programs. It has also been forced to devote resources to develop new software and guidance tools to operate in a more time-sensitive environment with fewer technological resources.”

The Innovation Law Lab and fellow platinfifs, 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).

You can support the Innovation Law Lab’s efforts to uphold asylum seekers’ rights and the rule of law by making a gift.

The Supreme Court ruling follows a preliminary injunction issued in federal district court earlier this week that halted implementation of the ban, labeling it “invalid” and citing the profound harms it would have to those seeking asylum.

The ruling also follows the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to not interfere with the lower district court’s ruling, agreeing with the district court that the ban is likely inconsistent with governing law. Both the Ninth Circuit Court’s and the Supreme Court’s decisions follow an attempt by the Trump Administration to force these courts to stay the district court’s order pending appeal.

These important legal victories stem from a lawsuit brought by the Innovation Law Lab and three other legal services organizations in early November. The suit argues that the president does not have the authority to unilaterally rewrite an immigration statute adopted by Congress which clearly states that those fleeing persecution may apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country.

“The crisis at the border is one of our federal government’s own making,” said Ian Philabaum, Program Director at the Innovation Law Lab, who has been spending more time at the Tijuana-San Diego border as of late. “The ill-conceived and unconstitutional ‘asylum ban’ is one of several attempts by our government to drastically limit all forms of immigration and implement white nationalist policies at the border.”

Philabaum and other staff at the Innovation Law Lab have been forced to divert time and resources into creating stopgap solutions for asylum seekers who have been targeted by the Trump Administration. Among the measures implemented by the Innovation Law Lab is a software tool that enables partner organizations and on-the-ground volunteers to conduct rapid and secure intakes. Use of the tool will allow the Innovation Law Lab to measure the extent to which the rule of law is being followed at the border and, later, connect asylum seekers with legal resources in the United States.

In the federal court’s ruling, which blocks the ban’s implementation,  Judge Jon Tigar specifically cited this rapid response work. “[The Innovation Law Lab] has expended significant resources to send staff to the border as it attempts to shift its programs. It has also been forced to devote resources to develop new software and guidance tools to operate in a more time-sensitive environment with fewer technological resources.”

The Innovation Law Lab and fellow platinfifs, 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).

You can support the Innovation Law Lab’s efforts to uphold asylum seekers’ rights and the rule of law by making a gift.

Innovation Law Lab argues that Jeff Sessions’ anti-immigrant bias renders him unfit to re-evaluate asylum case

On Friday, April 27, 2018, the Innovation Law Lab filed an amicus brief with United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, challenging his decision to reopen a settled asylum case on the grounds that his anti-immigrant and anti-asylum conduct disqualify him from exercising his authority to refer and review immigration cases.

“It appears the Attorney General of the United States is using his powerful position to advance a radical and unlawful rewrite of the law of asylum,” said Stephen Manning, Executive Director of the Innovation Law Lab. “His connections with white nationalist and alt-right organizations are troubling and problematic. Foundational principles of fairness require that he recuse himself—and his staff—from deciding on the Matter of A-B-.

The case at hand, known as the Matter of A-B- (initials are used to protect the asylee’s privacy), involves a domestic violence victim who fled to the United States after she was unable to obtain protection in her own country. Details on the case were initially kept secret by the Justice Department, but later made public by the attorneys who represented her. It was also later learned that Sessions selected this case for consideration in spite of objections from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Sessions’ decision to refer individual immigration cases to himself for review is an overstep of his authority and can adversely affect the outcome of future asylum cases. By overturning past decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), Sessions can, in effect, rewrite asylum and immigration policy.

The Innovation Law Lab was represented by Nadia Dahab of Stoll Berne, a Portland-based law firm. The amicus brief prepared by Nadia and her team draws from research from the Southern Poverty Law Center, particularly, the Extremist Files and Hatewatch, to cogently analyze and map the Attorney General’s connections to white nationalist and anti-immigrant organizations.

The brief argues that insofar as the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires the Attorney General to fairly and impartially administer immigration laws and the Attorney General and his staff promote racist and white nationalist viewpoints, the Attorney General has prejudged the issues presented in the Matter of A-B- and, therefore, cannot be an impartial judge where immigration and asylum law is concerned.

The Innovation Law Lab joined several other legal and advocacy organizations in voicing concerns over Sessions’ decision to reevaluate the Matter of A-B-. Other organizations that also submitted amicus briefs include the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (CLINIC), the Tahirih Justice Center, and the American Bar Association (ABA).

Read the Innovation Law Lab amicus brief

See Jeff Sessions’ connections to anti-immigrant advocates and organizations

Please direct all inquiries to Victoria Bejarano Muirhead at victoria@innovationlawlab.org.

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