“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.

Innovation Law Lab Files Lawsuit to Challenge the Trump Administration’s Asylum Transit Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, July 16, 2019

San Francisco, CA 一 Innovation Law Lab, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, and Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s latest attack on asylum and people fleeing persecution.  The organizations are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawsuit, filed before the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charges the administration with violating U.S. and international law. 

“This horrific new rule is but the latest chapter in the Trump Administration’s hate-fueled campaign against refugees and immigrants of color”, says Ian Philabaum, Program Director at Innovation Law Lab.

This new rule intends to block people fleeing persecution from seeking safety and lawfully  applying for asylum in the United States. Federal immigration law requires that the person be physically present in order to apply for asylum. Under the new rule, individuals who did not apply for asylum in the countries through which they traveled would not be eligible to request asylum in the United States; regardless of their physical presence. This shift in policy comes after the Trump Administration failed to reach a proposed “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala.

The Trump Administration’s dangerous and blatantly unlawful new rule ignores the fact that many countries in the Americas through which asylum-seekers travel do not meet the international standards required to enter a safe third-country agreement. Individuals who flee dangerous situations by land are often unable to apply for asylum prior to arriving to the United States’ southern border due to well-documented violence against migrants and the looming risk of refoulement, the legal term for being returned to a place where you may be persecuted. 

Innovation Law Lab is a nonprofit organization that uses technology, collaboration, and constitutional principles to empower lawyers and volunteers to provide effective representation to immigrants in hostile judicial jurisdictions and detention centers so that every claim that should win, does win, every time, everywhere. The vast majority of those served by Innovation Law Lab are asylum seekers.

This new policy will require Innovation Law Lab to divert its limited resources in order to entirely rework its large-scale pro bono legal representation projects, templates, guides, training videos, self-help videos, and other resources used by attorneys around the country. This new policy would also require Innovation Law Lab to divert its limited engineering resources to recode its software in order to create new analytical modeling. “Every single one of the Law Lab’s existing programs will be significantly affected, irrevocably damaged, and immediately diverted by the new rule”, stated Stephen Manning, Executive Director of Innovation Law Lab. 

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

Federal Asylum Officers Condemn Trump’s “Remain In Mexico” Policy For Violating Domestic And International Law

Five amicus briefs were filed this week in support of plaintiffs in Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan, Innovation Law Lab’s legal challenge to the Trump Administration’s policy of forcibly returning asylum seekers to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration court hearings. The briefs were filed on behalf of the labor organization representing current US Asylum Officers and other members of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); former US government officials, including former leaders in the Departments of State and Homeland Security; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Human Rights First; and Amnesty International USA, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group, and the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI).

The amicus briefs describe how the “Remain in Mexico” program violates binding domestic and international laws that protect the rights of immigrants seeking refuge from persecution. By forcing asylum seekers to wait in dangerous conditions along the Mexican border, the policy undermines the United States’ commitment to the principle of “non-refoulement”, which forbids any government from sending individuals back to a country where they are likely to face persecution or human rights violations.

“By forcing a vulnerable population to return to a hostile territory where they are likely to face persecution, the MPP abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and violates our international and domestic legal obligations,” explained the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924  in their brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

These filings provide further support for what asylum seekers waiting on the Mexican border already know ー that the unlawful policy, dubbed the “Migrant Persecution Protocols” by advocates, jeopardizes the lives of thousands of asylum seekers and undermines the United States’ commitment to refugee protection. These amicus briefs also come in the wake of the devastating news of the death of multiple asylum seekers after being forced to wait in Mexico in order to request asylum in the United States, including a father and 23-month-old daughter whose horrific drowning death was captured and shared publicly this week. 

Ending Sheridan, Report from the Sheridan Pro Bono Project

Ending Sheridan: Rise of a Rights Architecture, a report by Innovation Law Lab, describes the work in Oregon that resulted in a 100% client approval rate and the closing of the use of a prison for immigration detention.

One year ago, a broad effort to end the cruel and clandestine incarceration of immigrant men seeking asylum at the Sheridan federal detention center launched.

The report describes:

  • Massive Collaborative Representation: what it is and how it can be operationalized at specific sites of resistance;
  • the Big Immigration Law theory;
  • Oregon’s Rights Architecture and how innovation is fostered within the architecture.

The Sheridan Pro Bono project used a new mode of representation called Massive Collaborative Representation to intentionally exert power on the deportation system so that it might more fairly and more consistently adhere to the laws of the United States. The Sheridan Pro Bono Project relied on Oregon’s Rights Architecture to situate the massive collaborative representation in order to rapidly implement and scale the response

Infographic on case outcomes

The Sheridan Pro Bono Project won 100% of the credible fear claims and 97% of the release claims—unheard-of client outcomes in traditional representational models. Although the legal representation was centralized at Innovation Law Lab, its MCR approach to representation was built on the work of a large coalition of organizations, including Unidos Bridging CommunityACLU of Oregon, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Interfaith movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ), Rural Organizing Project (ROP), Causa, ICE Out of Sheridan, Progressive Yamhill and many other organizations who regularly work together through Oregon Ready.


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