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Su Caso Esta En Sus Manos

One of the world’s largest information and power disparity exists throughout the U.S. asylum adjudication system. A disparity exacerbated by the federal government’s recent attacks on asylum law and a concerning lack of access to free or affordable legal representation; putting refugees at an insurmountable disadvantage as they request safety in the United States. Under the current system, a person’s inability to explain their personal experiences within the context of relevant law means certain deportation back to harm’s way. Those seeking asylum in the United States are 5x less likely to succeed if not represented by an attorney.

While Innovation Law Lab is working diligently to increase legal representation at every step of a refugee’s journey, we recognize the legal community’s current limitations for providing free or affordable legal representation to all asylum-seekers in the United States. We also recognize how dire the situation has become for those unable to access even the most minimal legal services. And as a result, we are building models of support to reduce the harm felt in the increasingly large unrepresented population.

Over the past year, Innovation Law Lab has been collaborating closely with organizations across the United States to launch Asylum Workshop programs which work to inform, empower, and provide limited legal services to unrepresented individuals and families. As part of this ongoing initiative, Innovation Law Lab and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies have produced a Spanish-language informational video about asylum eligibility requirements which can be shared with persons fleeing persecution who have yet to retain legal representation or orientation. The “manita” framework used in this video was developed by Brenda Perez, a mijente member, as a popular education tool for asylum-seekers. 

Please note that this video is created as a tool to inform and not intended to serve as legal advice. Please also note that asylum eligibility, legal processes, and federal immigration policies are rapidly changing and may apply differently to recently arrived refugees. We encourage all to consult with an experienced attorney for case-specific information. 

“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.

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.

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. 

Ninth Circuit allows “Remain in Mexico” policy to stay in effect

May 7, 2019 – In a disappointing decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted the federal government’s emergency motion for a stay pending decision of the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

This ruling means that, for now, the government may continue to forcibly return asylum seekers to dangerous conditions in Mexico while the federal case, Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan, is fought in court.

“We disagree with the court’s characterization of Mexico’s commitment to protecting the human rights of those returned under MPP,” said Stephen Manning, Executive Director. “Our experience everyday on the ground at the border, in court, and in the shelters confirms what is apparent to everyone: Remain in Mexico is a lethal policy that pushes vulnerable people into a dangerous places without any due process.”

In February 2019, the Innovation Law Lab and others sued in federal court to prevent the forcible return of asylum seekers without due process. Though a lower court found MPP to be in violation of U.S. law nearly a month ago and issued a preliminary injunction, the injunction was subsequently stayed, allowing the program to move forward. The Trump Administration appealed to the Ninth Circuit seeking permission to continue implementing the MPP.  

Even while ultimately granting the government’s motion for a stay, the panel’s three separate opinions each acknowledged the grim reality that the asylum-seeking plaintiffs in this case “fear substantial injury upon return to Mexico.”

In separate concurrences, Judges William Fletcher and Paul Watford expressed serious reservations about the legality of MPP. Judge Fletcher forcefully explained that the “Government is wrong. Not just arguably wrong, but clearly and flagrantly wrong.” He characterized the government’s arguments as “unprecedented” and based on “an unnatural” and “impossible” reading of the law.

Judge Watford expressed his view that “DHS has adopted procedures so ill-suited to achieving that stated goal as to render them arbitrary and capricious” under the law, and even concluded that “it seems likely that the plaintiffs will succeed in establishing that DHS’s procedures for implementing the MPP are arbitrary and capricious” in certain aspects.

Under Remain in Mexico, thousands of individuals, including families, have been forcibly returned to Mexico without due process. Though the federal government claims asylum seekers are screened for safety concerns prior to return, advocates and asylum officers alike have raised concerns about this process.

A recent report confirms what Innovation Law Lab staff have experienced on the ground: asylum officers are pressured into signing paperwork indicating the asylum seeker will be safe in Mexico. As one officer said, “I’m not adjudicating that case. It’s like someone else sticking their hand inside me, like a glove.” Furthermore, there is no avenue for asylum seekers affected by MPP to challenge the U.S. government’s decision to send them back.

The Trump Administration continues to push other policies to dismantle the asylum process, such as using border patrol officers to screen asylum applicants, instead of trained asylum officers. These policies are cruel and needlessly place the lives of migrants in danger.

Plaintiffs in Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan 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).

Read the Ninth Circuit decision here.

Learn more about the background of the suit here.

For media inquiries contact:

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

Innovation Law Lab and other groups challenge the Trump Administration in court

Photo Caption: Attorneys and asylum seekers at a port of entry.

March 22, 2019 – Today, a federal court will decide if our country’s humanitarian laws can put an end to the Trump Administration’s latest attack on asylum seekers at the border. We are challenging the unlawful and dangerous “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forcibly returns asylum seekers to Mexico while their cases are adjudicated in immigration court.

Our team has been at the border identifying and interviewing individuals affected by the policy. The people we spoke with expressed bewilderment and dread over the prospect of remaining in Tijuana, where migrants routinely face abuse and violence.

In the words of asylum seekers that have been sent back to Mexico:

“I am just as afraid of being in Mexico as I was in my home country.”

“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.”

“I had already said many times that I was afraid to go back to Mexico, and nobody seemed to care.”

“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.”

“Apart from my fear of being in Mexico, I am also worried about how I will fight my asylum case. I don’t know how I can find a U.S. immigration lawyer while I’m in Tijuana.”

“At one point, I had to interrupt the [officer] to explain that I didn’t feel safe in Mexico. He told me that it was too bad… He told me I’d have to figure out how to survive in Tijuana.”

“Because I am a migrant here with only temporary immigration status, I feel that I am in danger and would not be protected by the Mexican government if I had a problem. I feel very visible because I have a Honduran accent… I also have visible scars and injuries on my head and face from when the Mara 18 tried to kill me in Honduras. These scars make it obvious that I am an asylum seeker.”

We will be in court today because asylum is a right. Because due process is a cornerstone of our Constitution. And because we strive to create a country where humanity rises above fear.

To support our work at the border, make a gift.

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

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