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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.


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.

Support Erin and Hamidou

“It has been seven months since I left my country, and I do not know what has become of my wife and children because I have not been able to communicate with them… I feel a deep anguish with every passing day. I pray to God and hope that I will soon leave this prison.”

 

“Desde que salí de mi país hace siete meses que no se nada de mi familia, de mis hijos y de mi esposa, por falta de comunicación. Es una angustia muy difícil en la que me encuentro dia con dia. Pero le pido a Dios que todo esté bien y que pronto salga de esta prisión.”

—Erin

Through community support of the Bond+ Fund, we have raised over $11,500, leading to the release of two individuals, Carlos and Abdoulaye, whose bonds totalled $8,500. Today, Carlos and Abdoulaye are free from detention and united with their families and friends.

There are still two men inside facing costly bonds with limited resources and several more awaiting decisions on bond who may need assistance very soon.

Erin, an asylum seeker from Honduras, and Hamidou, an asylum seeker from Mauritania, remain in Sheridan, each facing a steep $7,500 bond.

The total amount we need to pay Erin and Hamidou’s bonds is $15,000. As of today, we have approximately $3,000 remaining in the Bond+ Fund. With your help, we can raise the $12,000 more needed to free Erin and Hamidou from Sheridan.

Make a gift to the Bond+ Fund

Two individuals released from Sheridan, made possible by community giving

Two individuals released from Sheridan, made possible by community giving

In mid-September, Abdoulaye and Carlos received the good news that ICE had granted them parole, pending payment of bond. Detention was coming to an end and the unification with their families and communities was about to begin.

But the bond was so high.

And that is when Oregonians came together to contribute to the Bond+ Fund. Between donations from individuals and churches, enough money was raised to post bond for Carlos and Abdoulaye. And on Wednesday, October 3, they walked out of Sheridan.

“I could hardly believe it,” Carlos said. “A guard came to my cell and said, ‘you’re leaving now.’ I only had time to say goodbye to my cellmate.”

The day after Carlos was released from Sheridan, he asked to attend a gathering, as part of the Sheridan to NORCOR march organized by the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ), Rural Organizing Project (ROP), Causa, and other organizations.

He took the stage to share his story and thank advocates and volunteers for their tireless work on behalf of the many men detained at Sheridan. “I am here with this group to raise my voice for my companions that are still in prison… Hopefully they will soon all be free.”

To make a gift to the Bond+ Fund, click here.

Establishing the Law Lab Bond+ Fund

Make a Gift to the Law Lab Bond+ Fund

In late May, 123 immigrants were detained at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, simply because they came to the United States to seek asylum. By early August, every individual represented by the Law Lab won his claim to stay in the country to pursue asylum.

After many court hearings, pleas, public appeals, and direct action, 87% of the men in Sheridan have been released from detention. However, like elsewhere in the country, many individuals remain detained despite having won their credible fear claims and having bona fide grounds for release.

We are turning to you, our community, for partnership to secure the release of the asylum-seeking individuals who remain detained and to support them in uniting with their families and communities. But we also need your partnership in moving beyond bond.

The mass detention apparatus of the Trump Administration uses a flawed and immoral bond system. The bond system creates untenable stresses on families and communities and is at odds with our values as a nation.

So this cannot only be a bond fund. This fund will also develop a prototype for a new system to replace the flawed and oppressive power dynamic of the current bond process.

Our experience at Sheridan and in detention centers across the country underscores the need for an alternative to bond. As we fight for the release from detention for those still detained, let us create a legacy that extends beyond this moment in time, and envision a world in which mass detention ceases to exist.

We hope you will join us.

Sheridan: When a Community Responds

by Stephen W Manning, Executive Director at the Innovation Law Lab and Mat Dos Santos, Legal Director at the ACLU of Oregon

In late May 2018, the Trump Administration imprisoned Karandeep Singh, and hundreds other men like him, because he had fled to the United States to seek asylum. The administration’s goal, as President Donald Trump stated, was to “immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases bring them back from where they came.”

Mass imprisonment and rapid deportation are supposed to be the new norm because, according to the president, immigrants “are animals.” The Trump Administration is actualizing its immoral and unlawful plan to deport immigrant communities of color en masse. Immigrants with legitmate asylum claims are being deported faster and in larger numbers than we’ve seen before.

Like more than 120 other asylum seekers, the administration locked Karandeep in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, denied him access to lawyers – and therefore the law – and then was going to immediately deport him in spite of his legitimate claim to asylum. That was supposed to be it.

But, exactly 90 days after he was thrown in prison, Karandeep was freed from his cell in Sheridan to fight his asylum claim outside the electrified confinement of immigrant detention.

How did Karandeep get out of Sheridan?

Oregonians came together to provide necessary support for these asylum seekers in the best ways we each know how. We came together in the courts, on the streets, in the headlines, in our community, fighting for these men on both sides of Sheridan’s walls.

Grassroots organizations working within the Rights Architecture in Oregon deployed their best strategies, with their best hearts, and their clearest thinking to collectively defend Karandeep and all the men immorally imprisoned in Sheridan in order to build sustainable, inclusionary pathways for Oregon and everywhere.

 

Unidos Bridging Community, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ), the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) and others built solidarity outside the detention center with everyone inside the detention center through vigils, marches, and and public manifestations of connection, support, and hope. These actions kept what was happening in Sheridan in the headlines and in public consciousness, letting the men know the community supports them and letting the government know that their actions don’t align with Oregon’s values.

 

Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Causa, and others activated a massive network of volunteers to engage in the challenging and vital work of defending everyone in detention so that no one was forgotten.

The ACLU of Oregon – in collaboration with attorneys from Stoll Berne – as well as the Federal Public Defender of Oregon broke open the Trump Administration’s attempt to isolate Karandeep and others from the law by fighting the government in federal court. The successful lawsuit finally paved the way for the asylum seekers to have access to attorneys from the Innovation Law Lab.

 

APANO, ROP, Unidos, and the newly-formed ICE out of Sheridan group established a special post-detention respite network to provide a welcoming einvironment and transportation from the doors of the detention center to a safe, sheltered, dignified space, allowing the men to recover from detention and build plans for onward travel to their family and sponsors. This crucial support network engaged several religious organizations, like the Dasmesh Darbar Sikh Temple to St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, and dozens of community members.

 

And Oregon Ready, a statewide coalition of community organizations, collectivized attention on developing a lasting policy resolution to end asylum-seeker incarceration at federal prisons.

 

Karandeep’s journey is only partially complete. And many more immigrants of color are still confined within Sheridan and other facilites around the country. Yet when Karandeep walked out of Sheridan on August 21, he won an important victory in the long journey to protect the rule of law.

The simple promise that ended mass deportation in Sheridan

A note from Sheridan: “You were the ray of hope that entered the window of my cell. May God bless you and give you health. We care for your very much.”

Dear friends,

The Trump Administration hatched a plan to deport as many immigrants as fast as they could. Their plan involves building the apparatus of mass incarceration, creating vast shadows of stigma over the immigrant community, and eliminating courts. When the administration decided to incarcerate more than 120 asylum-seeking men in the Sheridan federal prison, they were implementing a plan to stigmatize, incarcerate, and then rapidly deport. It was a pre-ordained conclusion.

Well, that was until you stepped in.

A month ago, the ACLU of Oregon filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Innovation Law Lab and our client, Luis Javier Sanchez Gonzalez, in order for the Law Lab to obtain access to a single node in the apparatus of mass incarceration, the federal detention center in Sheridan, Oregon. Last week, the federal court granted a preliminary injunction securing our continued access. The Law Lab promised to represent everyone who needed and wanted a lawyer. Everyone.

And that simple promise broke the rapid deportation system in place at Sheridan. Although everyone was supposed to have been deported by now, every person represented by the Law Lab’s pro bono teams on the merits has won their fear claim. Everyone. And now it is time to get them out of detention and back with their families where they belong.

Since late June, more than 100 volunteers have:

  • Completed 101 legal screenings
  • Conducted 202 legal meetings
  • Defended clients at 85 credible fear interviews
  • Initiated release applications for every client
  • All of this in 9 languages
  • And WON every single fear claim. Every claim.

These men are still inside Sheridan. People who stood up for their beliefs, even when it put them in harm’s way. People who fled persecution from places like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mauritania. People seeking refuge from violent political battles playing out in different places in the world.

Today the first applications for release were filed. You can continue to support our efforts by making a gift, signing up to be part of the post-detention respite network, and joining public actions hosted by local advocacy organizations.

Thank you to the volunteers who have showed up in Sheridan and given their all and to the community members who have joined in marches and vigils, assuring the voices from Sheridan are heard. And special thanks to our community organization partners: the ACLU of Oregon, AILA, APANO, Causa, IMIrJ, and Unidos Bridging Community.

The Trump Administration sent immigrants to Sheridan in an attempt to deport them, to shut them off from legal counsel and the outside world. But because of YOU we have been able to alter the course of mass deportation in Sheridan, Oregon.

Sincerely,

The Innovation Law Lab Team

 

Legal access to continue in Sheridan

Today marks a crucial legal victory for Innovation Law Lab, as Judge Michael H. Simon granted our motion for a preliminary injunction, ensuring our clients detained in Sheridan continue to have access to legal counsel.

At the time of today’s hearing, 74 out of the 80 clients represented by the Innovation Law Lab had received positive determinations in their credible fear interviews. One client opted to forego his interview and return to his country of origin. Five decisions, for interviews that occured late last week, had yet to be issued.

The judge’s initial temporary restraining order undoubtedly had an effect on the efficacy of the credible fear process. Prior to his June 25 order, Innovation Law Lab attorneys, staff, and volunteers had been turned away from the facility numerous times, despite attempts to schedule visits with Bureau of Prisons and Immigration & Customs Enforcement staff ahead of time.

Once the court mandated access, the Innovation Law Lab quickly mobilized to provide “Know Your Rights” presentations to the majority of those detained, conduct over 100 screening interviews, hold over 150 additional one-on-one meetings, and enter into pro bono representation agreements with 80 individuals.

As the order expired this month, the Innovation Law Lab and our counsel, the ACLU of Oregon and Stoll Berne, made the decision to move forward in seeking a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction assures that our attorneys and volunteers will continue to have regular access to meet with our clients in Sheridan, and assure that clients are not transferred to other facilities without our prior consent.

While the credible fear interview positive determinations mark a key step forward in our clients’  cases, there is still more work for attorneys, interpreters, and legal assistants to do. Ultimately, this preliminary injunction will allow us to move forward unimpeded with the important work of securing release for the immigrants being detained in Sheridan.

“It matters what you call a thing”

Iranian-American poet Solmaz Sharif writes “It matters what you call a thing.” Chalked into a Portland sidewalk beside makeshift tents at an Abolish ICE rally is the phrase “no human is illegal.” In court proceedings,representatives for the Department of Homeland Security referred to the immigrants detained at Sheridan as “aliens.”

Working as an intern at the Innovation Law Lab over the past several weeks, I’ve tried to keep at the top of my mind the central absurdity that we’re fighting – the fact that over a hundred immigrants are being held in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon as a result of the policies of the current administration. And I’ve turned to Solmaz Sharif’s writing to try and understand why this is happening, to move beyond my initial feelings of indignation and outrage.

Because of her poetry, I’m reminded that names matter. Illegal or undocumented. Inmate or immigrant. Alien or refugee. Names matter because they reveal who we consider as human, who we believe is deserving of basic freedoms and constitutional rights.

In my mind, the atrocities of Sheridan – while horrifying – did not emerge out of nowhere. These atrocities required a systematic process of dehumanization, one in which refugees of color fleeing persecution could be classified as criminal, illegal, and undeserving of protection even before they arrived on United States soil.

The workings of this process can be found in the acts of definition which saturate court hearings, where the meaning of a name has high stakes – where what Attorney General Jeff Sessions considers “a particular social group” can affect the fates of thousands of Central and South Americans fleeing gang violence; where what constitutes the beginning of “removal proceedings” can determine who gets to speak to the immigrants being held at Sheridan. The workings of this process can be traced to the moments where a human being becomes an alien, where an asylum seeker becomes an illegal, where a refugee becomes a migrant who didn’t do it the right way.

And in light of this systematic dehumanization of individuals seeking protection from violence and persecution, it is our task to continue to imagine a more radical definition of the human – one which includes immigrants, instead of turning them away.

This post was written by Ethan Chua, summer intern at Innovation Law Lab. Ethan is a junior at Stanford University, where he studies anthropology, linguistics, and poetry.

Day 18: Update from Sheridan

Photo: Victoria Bejarano Muirhead (Innovation Law Lab), Keith Ketterling (Stolll Berne), Nadia Dahab (Stoll Berne), Leland Baxter-Neal (ACLU of Oregon), Chris Nicholson (Innovation Law Lab), Ethan Chua (Innovation Law Lab)

Today marks 18 days since the court granted the Innovation Law Lab access to provide legal counsel to the immigrants detained at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.

“It is a core principle of the United States that no person in this country should be imprisoned without due process of law,” noted Stephen Manning, Executive Director of the Innovation Law Lab, “The court order has been crucial to identifying and remedying issues related to legal access.”

Every day, from June 26 onward, the Innovation Law Lab has had a legal presence at the Sheridan facility. In a status conference today, we had the opportunity to provide an update on the work that has occurred since:

  • 113 individuals received Know Your Rights presentations (we did not meet with individuals who at the time of initial access indicated they had private counsel)
  • 16 individuals have so far indicated they have private counsel or have declined counsel
  • 85 individuals have received one-on-one screening interviews
  • 40 individuals have received follow up consultations
  • 44 formal appearances of counsel have been filed, with more to be submitted over the weekend

 

Additionally, the Bureau of Prisons has agreed to modify their process for passing legal documents to inmates to more closely align with ICE detention standards. Starting Monday, July 16, attorneys and legal assistants will be able to pass legal documents in a #10 envelope to clients during legal visits.

Typical BOP policy would require documents to go through a drop box for review, significantly impeding a client’s ability to prepare for an interview or complete legal documents on his own.

The small adjustment will have a significant impact on our ability to serve our clients as they prepare for credible fear interviews, which are due to start next week.

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

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