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

Innovation Law Lab and other groups demand an immediate end to returning asylum seekers to Mexico

February 21, 2019 – Late last night, Innovation Law Lab and other groups asked a federal court to immediately halt the return of asylum-seeking migrants to Mexico. A hearing is expected soon.

“Every day this policy is allowed to continue, more asylum seekers are placed in harm’s way,” said Stephen Manning, Innovation Law Lab executive director. “Turning back individuals who are lawfully applying for asylum is, simply put, unconscionable.”

The filing is the latest in the lawsuit, Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen, which challenges the legality of the Trump Administration’s forced return practiced, the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which forcibly returns asylum seekers to Mexico where they are at great risk of harm.

The filing also comes on the heels of the expansion of the policy to include not only adult asylum seekers, but families with children. On February 13, a family was returned with a one-year-old child.

“People we spoke with in Tijuana reported feeling too fearful to venture outside of the shelters and homes where they were staying,” said Jordan Cunnings, Innovation Law Lab staff attorney. “Not only do they fear violence at the hands of cartel members or others who may target vulnerable migrants, but they worry the Mexican government may deport them while they wait.”

Read the filing here.

Innovation Law Lab is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS). 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.

Innovation Law Lab lead plaintiff in lawsuit challenging Trump Administration’s return of asylum seekers to Mexico

February 14, 2019 – Innovation Law Lab is at the center of a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s controversial and dangerous new policy of sending asylum-seeking migrants back across the southern border while they await the conclusion of their cases in United States immigration court.

“This is no longer just a war on asylum seekers, it’s a war on our system of laws,” said Melissa Crow, Southern Poverty Law Center senior supervising attorney. “This misguided policy deprives vulnerable individuals of humanitarian protections that have been on the books for decades and puts their lives in jeopardy.”

“Each year, tens of thousands of individuals rely on Innovation Law Lab’s expertise, systems, and technology,” said Stephen Manning, executive director of Innovation Law Lab. “The new protocol not only jeopardizes the lives and well-being of asylum seekers in Mexico, but diverts limited resources and staff time away from existing programs to respond to this crisis.”

“The Trump administration is forcibly returning asylum seekers to danger in Mexico,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.“Once again, the administration is breaking the law in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking safety in the United States.”

“This new policy severely undermines the very purpose of our asylum system, endangering rather than safeguarding the lives of our individual plaintiffs and others fleeing persecution,” said Blaine Bookey, co-legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

Innovation Law Lab uses data, design, and the law to support asylum seekers and provide technological and strategic support to attorneys around the country. Technology developed by Innovation Law Lab is at the core of several large-scale pro bono projects throughout the country, and is increasingly being deployed at the border.

The lawsuit cites violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, as well as the United States’ duty under international human rights law not to return people to dangerous conditions.

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 eleven asylum seekers affected by the policy in question. Plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS).

To read the complaint filed, 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

Judge rules NORCOR violated Oregon law

Court finds that NORCOR assisted ICE in a manner that violates ORS 181A.820; finds detention contract not prohibited

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 8, 2019

CONTACTS:

Erin M. Pettigrew, Innovation Law Lab, erin@innovationlawlab.org, 971-612-0540

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

The Dalles, Oregon – In a decision issued today, Judge John Wolf of Wasco County determined that two of Northern Oregon Regional Corrections’ (NORCOR) immigration enforcement practices are illegal under Oregon’s disentanglement law, ORS 181A.820, often referred to as Oregon’s sanctuary statute and the first law of its kind in the nation.

First, the court took issue with NORCOR’s practices of notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when a person is scheduled to be released from the local jail. The court determined that “[t]he record in this case establishes no purpose for the release notifications except for the purpose of detecting and apprehending persons in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.”

The court went on to conclude that the jail’s allegedly discontinued practice of holding individuals beyond their release date for ICE is likewise illegal under state law. The court reasoned, “re-seizure or subsequent seizure occurs when an inmate remains in jail after the original basis for incarceration ceases to exist.” Therefore, NORCOR must release the individual as required under state law, and to do otherwise violates ORS 181A.820, said Judge Wolf.  

The trial court held, however, that NORCOR’s contract with ICE to “accept and provide for secure custody” of persons detained for federal immigration enforcement does not violate ORS 181A.820, nor does its policy of notifying ICE of the presence of a foreign-born person upon booking on state or local charges. With respect to the contract, the court determined that the term “apprehend” in the statute “is not commonly understood to mean holding someone in jail or prison.” The court went on to conclude that notifying ICE of the presence of foreign-born persons in the jail did not violate Oregon law because those persons may have violated other state laws and because there is an exception to the statute for exchanges of information to verify immigration status.

Though NORCOR argued the Plaintiffs lacked standing, the trial court disagreed, ruling that the Plaintiffs had standing to bring suit because they had shown negative tax consequences as a result of NORCOR’s relationships with ICE.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision that NORCOR is violating Oregon law in some respects, but disappointed by the court’s decision with respect to the ICE contract,” said Erin M. Pettigrew of Innovation Law Lab, one of the attorneys representing the Plaintiffs. “As Judge Wolf observed at the hearing, it is likely that some or all of his rulings will be appealed, as they involve issues of broad importance to Oregonians.”

Read the decision here.

Andrea’s Story: When sponsorship makes all the difference

When Andrea*, a queer asylum seeker, arrived in the United States and was detained in the notorious Cibola County Detention Center, she wondered if she would ever find a way out. Cibola is notorious for reported human rights abuses, and earlier that year, Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender asylum seeker detained at Cibola, died after neglect and apparent physical abuse.

Andrea’s anxiety was compounded by the fact that she did not have any family or friends on the outside who could advocate for her and assist her with her request for release. When considering whether to grant parole or bond, ICE and immigration judges heavily weigh a petitioner’s connections to the U.S. and often require asylum seekers name a “sponsor.” However, for queer asylum seekers, finding a sponsor can be particularly difficult; even if they have family in the U.S., they are not always welcome to stay with them.

“I didn’t expect to be released,” Andrea shared. “I thought I was going to be detained forever fighting my case. My physical and mental state while imprisoned would have not allowed me to do any of that. I cannot return to my country but I didn’t know if I would stay alive in detention.”

Concurrently, grassroots groups came together to offer their support in securing release from detention for asylum seekers. The Innovation Law Lab, in partnership with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Freedom for Immigrants, Diversidad Sin Fronteras, and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, formed the Asylum Seeker Sponsorship Program, which connects asylum seekers with volunteer sponsors.

The newly-formed program matched Andrea with Amor y Solidaridad, a group willing to sponsor her and offer her a place to stay if she was released from Cibola. With a sponsor secured, pro bono attorneys could move forward with preparing and submitting a request for parole to ICE.

“Receiving the news that I was granted parole was so exciting,” Andrea recalled. “I still remember that moment.”

Outside of detention, Andrea is thriving. She is studying English, gaining professional training, and learning how to crochet, bake, and make sculptures. Most importantly, she feels more confidence in her ongoing asylum case and has been able to secure onward legal assistance. “As I find help and community, I am finding a new strength to continue fighting for a better life.”

To read more about our work with detained asylum seekers, read our impact report.

To find out how you can sponsor or support an asylum seeker, follow this link.

*Name has been changed.

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.

Creating Templates and Checklists for LawLab

At the Sheridan Pro Bono Project, the legal team used templates and checklists created in LawLab to achieve amazing client outcomes. LawLab made it simple to standardize processes across teams and throughout a case life cycle.

Why Checklists?

Checklists are one of the most effective tools humans use in navigating complex systems.

  • Checklists verify that the necessary minimum gets done. Checklists minimize the tendency to overlook routine matters because it’s often our most basic tasks that can spell the difference between success and disaster. Checklists act as a check against our ego and to mitigate the problem of “expert audacity”.
  • Checklists open up innovation opportunities. Checklists enable creativity because they provide freedom to exercise professional judgment. We are able to address unforeseen problems because the checklists gave lawyers an objective measure to determine when a process needed updating.  Checklists don’t replace judgment, they enhance it.
  • Checklists create rigor & consistency. Checklists create discipline to make sure the small and large things are done, are right, and are done consistently right. Research shows that giving someone a checklist for a task increases their chances of completing it.
  • Checklists save time. Checklists can minimize the need for repeated specialized trainings because they provide a system for users to access stored knowledge.

At the Sheridan Pro Bono Project, we created three different types of checklists: READ-DO, DO-CONFIRM, and SELECT-SHARE.


Example of DO-CONFIRM checklist for volunteers to prepare for initial immigration court hearings.

In a DO-CONFIRM checklist, a volunteer used a checklist to confirm that she/he completed all the necessary steps associated with a particular part of the workflow. These checklists were used after a training was provided. In the training, the volunteer learned and practiced the steps necessary for successful client interactions. A DO-CONFIRM checklist allows more freedom to complete tasks or checks from memory before consulting the list. Once the tasks are completed, a pause point occurs. The checklist can be consulted to confirm that no tasks have been overlooked. Pilots use a DO-CONFIRM checklist to ensure they haven’t overlooked anything such as checking the right instruments or locking the plane’s brakes. Essentially, this kind of checklist helps the pilot fly a plane safely without relying solely on their fallible memory.

In a READ-DO checklist, a volunteer read the step in the checklist and then completed it. A good common example is cooking with a recipe. Most cooking recipes are written in a READ-DO style (e.g., I add the salt after I read the line telling me to add salt).

A SELECT-SHARE was a checklist where one volunteer selected a series of options from a list and then shared the options with another volunteer to complete a particular task. A common example is when a doctor fills out a form to order a prescription: she selects options from a list (type of medicine, how many pills, how often to take, refills allowed, etc) in order for another person to complete the task of filling the prescription.


Example of a combined DO-CONFIRM and READ-DO checklist entered as a template into LawLab. When the custom caseaction “SHX Exit Interview” is selected, the software auto-populates the checklist for the volunteer. The volunteer goes through each step, entering a “y” or an “n” to indicate each step. The travel section is a DO-CONFIRM. The Warnings are a READ-DO. This template provided a high-level of consistency across the Sheridan Pro Bono Project. With a single training, volunteers were able to adequately and consistently provide critical information to clients who were moving onward from Sheridan to other places in the United States.

Templates

LawLab allowed the Sheridan team to create checklists in the form of Templates. An administrator created case actions (notes, tasks or events) and pre-populated the comment field. During this process, we learned a few things:

  • Getting the steps in the checklist right takes thought; we seldom got it right the first time. This also meant that we tinkered with the processes on the fly as we learned.
  • Markdown syntax–the syntax used on LawLab’s comment fields–proved useful in creating templates. We added two spaces at the end of each line and then a hard return to create line breaks to create a sense of itemization, in an effort to avoid confusion.
  • We enclosed the “checkbox” between brackets in a single, selectable string. This enabled a volunteer to doubleclick the string (e.g., [ yn ] ) and quickly change to “y” or “n”.

We used templates to standardize data collection and activities at different points in the process.  For example, this template standardized note taking at a master hearing. The volunteer would often complete the template in real-time at the hearing–that is, as the hearing was taking place, the volunteer would have their laptop open, refer to the Hearing Worksheet, and then complete the Hearing Report. This improved data collection and data searching.


Combining checklists with triggers enabled the work of representation to move quickly. Here, a volunteer assigned a case to prepare release documents, would go through the checklist. Once the checklist was complete, the volunteer would trigger the next action. To create an accountability loop and prevent a case from falling off track, a trigger was created that auto-populated a case review 14 days after a case was assigned.


Templates were used to standardize data entry. Here, whenever a bond order was received, a volunteer selected the Bond Order action and then completed the data entry using the template. A trigger was added so that a few days later, the case was reviewed to determine whether the bond was posted.


We used a combination of a DO-CONFIRM and a READ-DO for sponsor notification.


A SELECT-SHARE was used where one volunteer would create a task for another volunteer to complete. For example, here, a volunteer who interviewed a client inside the detention center might have entered an order for another volunteer to obtain court records or police records. The volunteer would use the checklist and select the options to provide the information needed. We added a trigger to create accountability and verify that the records had indeed been ordered.

These are just some examples of the power of LawLab to integrate checklists and templates.

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.

From 124 to Zero: Final asylum seekers released from Sheridan

November 26 was a milestone in the Trump Administration’s failed experiment to incarcerate over 100 asylum seekers in a federal prison in Oregon. On that day, a judge heard the final asylum claims for the last two men still incarcerated at Sheridan.

 

To recap: in May 2018, the Trump Administration dropped more than 100 men who were seeking asylum into the Sheridan prison. The Trump Administration had already ordered all of the men deported and intended to deport them as quickly as possible and as secretly as possible. The administration prevented anyone detained inside from calling out for help; prevented everyone on the outside from getting in to provide help. The Trump Administration was experimenting with the U.S. Constitution by pretending it did not exist. The Law Lab promised to represent everyone at Sheridan; the Trump Administration protested and so the Law Lab sued. A federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to let the lawyers in. So the lawyers and legal advocates went in. And then what happened is that the law, the U.S. Constitution and all of the rules and rights that matter for liberty and democracy and the rule of law, mattered again.

 

None of the the Trump Administration’s inflammatory rhetoric proved to be true. The Trump Administration’s tweets that demonized these men were plainly false. Once lawyers got access, they were able to prove that each of these individuals were fleeing violence. Indeed, every person incarcerated at Sheridan and represented by the Innovation Law Lab was found to have a bona fide claim for asylum, or, in the words of the law, each individual had a substantially likelihood of winning asylum if only given a chance before a judge.

 

The Trump Administration’s rationale for incarcerating these individuals was largely illusory. The lawyers went to court and in the coming months, 96% of the men would be released on bond. Oregonians rallied together to raise over $22,000, which secured the release of four men whose families and friends did not have the ability to pay their bonds.

The way the system of justice is supposed to work is that we resolve disputes in court. Judges are supposed to hear testimony and review evidence. There is supposed to be examination and cross-examination. And then, good people who do, in the words of the Chief Justice of the United States, their level best to get the law and the facts right to make the best decision that can be made. That’s the way it is supposed to work.

 

And what happened on November 26? Exactly that. The Law Lab presented its best cases for its final two detained clients. The government presented its best case. And a judge heard both sides, considered the law and the claims and everything that was at stake.

 

In one case, the judge immediately granted asylum at the conclusion of the hearing. In the other case, the asylum seeker has been transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to await the judge’s decision.

Legal advocates win freedom from detention for asylum-seeking father— twice

When Oscar called me from the ICE office, I could tell he had been crying. “They’re going to detain me again,” he said. “They say there is nothing I can do.”

**

It had been 14 months since I had met Oscar, his wife Linda, and their son, Oscar Jr. at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. They were planning to come to the United States and ask for asylum together. A shelter volunteer introduced us because I had experience working with families seeking asylum both in and out of detention centers, and could tell them a little bit about what they might expect.

I told them Linda and Oscar Jr. would likely be taken to a family detention center for mothers and children, where an asylum officer would conduct a screening interview to assess asylum eligibility. If Linda and Oscar, Jr. passed the preliminary interview, they would be released to live with her sister in Houston, Texas and wait for an appointment with an immigration judge who would decide their case. On other hand, Oscar would be sent to an adult detention center, alone.

Oscar would also have to pass a screening interview, but for him passing a screening would not signal the end of detention. He would likely be detained for much longer, for months, possibly a year or longer. I could not promise to help them after they crossed, but I gave them my phone number and told them that I would do my best to be available to help if they called.

The family kept in touch, and I soon learned that Linda and Oscar Jr. were sent to a family detention center in Karnes, Texas where an embedded pro bono representation project run by RAICES assisted Linda in preparing for her screening interview. After a few weeks, Linda and her son were released and went to live with family in Texas.

Oscar Jr was full of kindergarten pride over learning his colors and numbers in English.”

Linda would call me to share updates: Oscar was still detained, Oscar Jr. was enrolled in elementary school, and eventually that their first court hearing was scheduled. Linda would sometimes pass the phone to Oscar Jr. who was full of kindergarten pride over learning his colors and numbers in English.

Oscar was sent to an adult detention center in Southern California. Spring quickly passed, then summer faded to fall. Oscar missed his son’s sixth birthday. To pass the time, Oscar read the Bible. He worked in the detention center kitchen. He dreamt of getting out and being reunited with his family.

I helped him assemble a pro se parole request which he submitted to ICE. ICE’s response: Oscar could leave, but only if he agreed to wear an ankle monitor and pay a $20,000 bond.

$20,000 is a common bond amount, high enough that it leads many people to give up hope of release altogether.”

For detained immigrants in this region, $20,000 is a common bond amount, high enough that it leads many people to give up hope of release altogether. However, Oscar was fortunate to have an ally, Luna, who had visited and gotten to know him in detention. Luna offered to front the money and posted Oscar’s bond.

Within a few days, Oscar was released from detention. Luna drove him halfway across the country to Texas where he was reunited with his family. They were connected to the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), an innovative organization founded to fill the gap in immigration representation in Houston. HILSC helped Linda prepare and file a pro se asylum application and then began to help Oscar request work authorization.

Our phone calls began to shift away from their immigration cases to normal, everyday life.”

I kept in touch with Oscar, Linda, and Oscar Jr. Our phone calls began to shift away from their immigration cases to normal, everyday life. Oscar Jr. would call for help with math homework. They told me about the community they had found at a local church, where Oscar began assisting with church renovations, often volunteering from 7 at night to 1 in the morning. When Oscar’s work permit arrived, he was able to secure a job in construction, enabling the family to move to their own apartment. Oscar and Linda even decided to formalize their common law marriage with a church wedding and began making arrangements.

Everything seemed to be looking up for Oscar and his family—until Oscar’s ankle monitor battery proved faulty. The battery should have only needed charging once or twice a day, but it was requiring charging dozens of times a day. Oscar reported the problem to the Intensive Supervision of Appearance Program (ISAP), the monitoring program for immigrants released from detention, but the supervisor didn’t do anything. Oscar did his best to keep the battery charged anyway.

Whenever the battery died, ICE would call Oscar to assure he was complying with the conditions of his release. Sometimes the battery would die while Oscar was volunteering at the church; the priest would rush him home so he could recharge it. Sometimes the battery would die while Oscar was asleep and he didn’t always hear ICE when they called.

On a Friday, he asked ISAP to replace his faulty battery. They said they would look into it.

**

Three days later, I got the call from Oscar. He had gone to the ICE office for a routine check in and was informed that because he had failed to keep his battery charged and answer follow up calls, he was going to be re-detained.

He’s in violation of his conditions. He’s going to be detained, and there’s nothing to do about it.”

Oscar handed the phone to the officer who bluntly told me, “I’ve already explained everything I have to say. He’s in violation of his conditions. He’s going to be detained, and there’s nothing to do about it.”

“Do you know he has a wife and a six-year-old child?” I asked the officer. “He’s the only one in the family with a work permit. If you detain him, you are taking away a father, a husband, and putting his family at risk of homelessness.”

“I’ve already made my decision.”

**

Because of a battery malfunction, Oscar was headed back to immigrant detention.

If we were going to get Oscar out of detention a second time, we would need a dream team. And we would need to act fast.”

Once a person has been found to be in violation of release conditions, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, it is very hard to get them out again. And in detention, asylum hearings are accelerated, meaning, there often is not sufficient time to collect evidence, secure expert witnesses, and prepare clients.

My colleague, Ian Philabaum, introduced me to a well-connected Houston local who put me in touch with several advocates. Within a few days, we had truly assembled our dream team with legal advocates from Houston and beyond. Raul Ochoa, Frances Rodriguez, Laura Nally, and Marisa Peterson, each a superstar in their own right, were all eager to pitch in. Once they met Oscar and his family, it was impossible not to want to support them. Legal service providers at Human Rights First, Justice for our Neighbors Houston (JFON Houston), Al Otro Lado, and the YMCA pooled their resources to draft requests and research case questions while local organizations, like the family’s church and LaUnidad11, stepped up to provide assistance to Linda and Oscar Jr. Friends regularly visited him in detention.

Court cases inside detention centers move very quickly, and Oscar’s final asylum hearing, called a “merits hearing,” was set less than a month away. I knew plan A was to get Oscar out of detention by submitting a second parole request. However, there was a good chance that the request would be denied, and we needed a plan B. Marisa, a staff attorney at JFON Houston, agreed to work on the asylum case.

Marisa explained that she was willing to represent Oscar even though it was such a short timeline for an asylum case because, “I knew Oscar needed a lawyer to represent him if the parole request didn’t work. It’s almost impossible for an unrepresented asylum seeker to win their case, especially if they are detained. In 2017 only 10% of applicants without representation were granted asylum in court, the other 90% were denied.” At this point we had done everything we could for Oscar. We submitted the second parole request, and waited.

Less than two weeks before Oscar’s court date, I called the deportation officer assigned to Oscar’s case to ask about the status of the parole request. I expected to be told the request was still under review, or worse, that it had been denied. Instead, I was told Oscar had been released that morning.

Were it not for the band of advocates that mobilized around Oscar’s case, a family would have been fractured.”

Oscar’s story shows what a difference legal representation and community support can make. Were it not for the band of advocates that mobilized around Oscar’s case, a family would have been fractured. Oscar could have remained in detention, or worse, been deported to the country his family sacrificed everything to flee.

Now he is back in Houston, and Marisa is still working on his case. Oscar and his family are glad to have more time to prepare for his merits hearing, now scheduled farther out. They are grateful to be united once again and have their lives return to a state of normalcy. Just a few weeks ago, they celebrated Linda’s birthday. And soon Oscar and Linda will begin planning their church wedding again, which will surely have a long guest list.

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This post was written by Ariel Prado, Program Manager at Innovation Law Lab, based in Atlanta, Georgia. It was edited by Marisa Peterson, Staff Attorney at Justice for our Neighbors Houston (JFON Houston), and Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, Development Director at Innovation Law Lab.

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