FCI Sheridan Legal Response

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Sheridan Pro Bono Project

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THANK YOU to the over 900 individuals who answered our call for volunteer attorneys, legal assistants, interpreters, and other roles! We are doing our best to communicate with the group. Our volunteer survey will remain open, but given our limited capacity, it may be some time before we respond to you. Access the survey here.

If you would like to make a gift to support the legal efforts at FCI Sheridan, you may do so here.

Thank you for supporting our efforts during this critical time!

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Our latest news!

“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.

An update from the inside

Dear friends,

Two weeks ago, I spent my first day inside a detention center. As a long-time volunteer with the Innovation Law Lab, I heard many stories from detention, shared by immigrants and advocates alike. But to finally be in a detention center and meet the individuals held there has given me a new sense of scope.

It may sound apparent, but every person inside Sheridan has a story, a family, a home. Each of them made the decision to leave their homes and families and travel thousands of miles to a new place in search of safety, for themselves and, for many, their families. Each of them is scared and confused as to why after coming all this way, they are here, in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.

On the other side of the prison wall is a community that wants to help. This week we were able to utilize over 25 on-the-ground volunteers and complete “Know Your Rights” presentations for all previously-unrepresented immigrants at Sheridan!

During what has been an incredibly challenging time, we have been kept afloat by the brave individuals in Sheridan and our remarkable supporters. For all of you, I am grateful and truly humbled by the depth of your compassion in the face of very dark circumstances.

Thank you,

Katy Mitchell

Program Manager, Sheridan Pro Bono Project

Innovation Law Lab

Important victory in court

On Monday, June 25, a federal judge granted emergency relief to allow pro bono attorneys to provide legal counsel to the 121 individuals detained in Sheridan, Oregon.

This ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Oregon and Stoll Berne on behalf of the Innovation Law Lab and Luis Javier Sanchez Gonzalez, one of the individuals detained at the federal prison in Sheridan. The suit was brought after repeated denials by ICE and the Bureau of Prisons to allow pro bono attorneys and legal assistants with the Innovation Law Lab meet with individuals in detention and provide Know Your Rights presentations.

Luis Javier, an asylum seeker who was separated from his partner, his five-year-old son, and 18-month-old daughter upon arriving in the United States, has spent nearly a month at FCI Sheridan. When given the opportunity to call his family for a three-minute call, he took the opportunity to ask for a lawyer.

For individuals seeking asylum, access to counsel can be the difference between life and death. And in the era of family separation, counsel can be critical to facilitating the reunification of families fractured at the border.

To read the full lawsuit, follow this link.

Legal Teams Again Denied Access to Immigrants at Sheridan Prison

SHERIDAN, Ore. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and Innovation Law Lab said today that pro bono legal teams were again denied access to the federal prison in Sheridan where 121 asylum seekers are currently being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The groups wrote a letter to ICE earlier this week demanding access to the detainees.

“I am shocked that our legal teams were turned away again,” said Mat dos Santos. “Local ICE officials keep telling us we can meet with the detainees, but when we go to the prison we are turned away. This is unacceptable.”

The groups said that they notified ICE last night that they would send a team today to visit four detainees who have requested legal representation. This afternoon, the first legal team was turned away at the gate during the visiting hours and denied access to the detainees. Another pro bono legal team was scheduled to give a “Know Your Rights” presentation to some of the detainees this evening, but they were also turned away at the gate. A group of six clergy and faith leaders were also turned away from entering the prison today.

Dos Santos said he is also disturbed by reports of conditions at the prison including detainees being confined to their cells over 22 hours per day as well as a scabies outbreak.

“The men who are being detained by ICE at Sheridan prison are suffering,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. “We will not stop fighting to get pro bono attorneys in to meet with the detained men. Sheridan clearly is ill-equipped to house immigrant detainees and the local ICE staff seems to be in way over their heads.”

The asylum seekers were sent to Oregon during the unprecedented move of 1,600 ICE detainees to federal prisons in five states earlier this month. The ACLU of Oregon submitted a FOIA request this week seeking information on the decision to move the people now at the federal prison in Sheridan and any policies or guidelines for handling the detention of immigrants there. They are also seeking information about whether detainees are being allowed to locate and contact their missing family members.

The 121 detained men are from 16 countries and speak 13 languages. Advocates believe that they have been in detention since mid-May after being detained while seeking asylum at southern border.

This post was originally published by the ACLU of Oregon here.

FCI Sheridan Update June 18 | What Happened & What’s Next

What happened today?

Today, we sent a team of pro bono lawyers to FCI Sheridan. And once again ICE denied our entire team of pro bono lawyers access to the asylum-seeking men they have hidden inside a federal penitentiary.

Why is this happening?

The Trump Administration has chosen to use the immense weapon of incarceration and family separation to punish and terrorize immigrants, particularly immigrants from communities of color. The law never required that these men be detained; the law never required that these families be separated; and the law certainly never required — in fact, it is rather unprecedented — that these men be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.

But in the deportation process, when people are detained and hidden deportations come fast and easy. Keep them hidden. Keep them isolated. If no one cares, then it is as if it never happened at all. Right?

And that’s the mistake the Trump Administration made.

They weren’t expecting hundreds of Oregonians to step up and say: we are in this to win it. Unique in the United States, Oregonians–hundreds of you– have promised to defend these men in the courts, their families, the law of asylum — and by that simple Constitutional fact of due process and fairness, you are defending the rule of law and democracy.

What’s next & what can you do now?

  • Be ready. As soon as we open access–and we will–things will happen very very fast and you will need to be available. We cannot say when yet.
  • Learn about asylum. We’ve developed an online training curriculum to show you the basics.
  • Learn why the role of counsel in rapid removals is so important.

Be well & more soon,

The Sheridan Pro Bono Project

Chanpone Sinlapasai, Eileen Sterlock, Stephen Manning, Caroline van der Harten, Luis Garcia

Immigration experts and elected officials call for justice for immigrants detained at FCI Sheridan

The federal government continues to restrict access to Oregon attorneys offering to provide pro bono legal counsel to the immigrants detained at FCI Sheridan.

On Sunday, June 17, Senator Ron Wyden met with a group of Oregon immigration experts advocating for the rights of the men at FCI Sheridan. Experts included Stephen Manning and Ian Philabaum of the Innovation Law Lab, Mat Dos Santos of the ACLU of Oregon, and Chanpone Sinlapasai and Luis Garcia of the law firm of Marandas Sinlapasai.

In a press conference following the meeting, Stephen Manning acknowledged the outpouring of support from the Oregon community: “Within days of the announcement that there were going to be asylum-seeking men held at [the Sheridan] facility, more than 300 Oregonians have already stepped up. We will be able to provide free lawyers for every person that is detained in that facility.”

The challenge that remains is connecting immigrants at FCI Sheridan with pro bono attorneys. Currently, there is no way for individuals in detention to make a phone call to an attorney and attorneys wishing to visit potential clients have been turned away. Stephen explained, “We need the government to meet us halfway and provide the constitutional baseline of access.”

Luis Garcia, who visited FCI Sheridan last week at the invitation of the Mexican Consulate, noted that some of the men had been separated from their children. “As a new father, it is extremely difficult for me to drop my child off at daycare. I cannot imagine what these individuals are going through where they haven’t seen their relatives or children for over two months.”

Luis further added, “Our government is accomplishing what cartels and gang members were not able to do, and it is destroying families and separating them.”

This meeting comes a day after Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Representatives Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer toured FCI Sheridan. Elected officials learned there are 16 countries and 13 languages represented at FCI Sheridan.

Watch the entire press conference here.

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

FCI Sheridan Update, What’s Next, How to Get Involved

Thank you for your interest and willingness to defend democracy, end family separation & support the pro bono legal effort at FCI Sheridan.

What happened?

As you know, the Trump Administration has launched an assault on immigrants, particularly immigrants from communities of color. The immigration authorities are physically tearing children from parents, prosecuting asylum-seekers, and incarcerating mothers, fathers, and children–separately.  Here at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon, the Trump Administration has incarcerated more than one hundred men who are seeking asylum

Nearly 300 people have volunteered to defend the law of asylum by supporting the legal defense work at FCI Sheridan. Thanks to your support, in just a few days:

  • We’ve opened a base camp (otherwise known as a very modest law office) in a donated space in the lovely rural town of Sheridan just minutes from FCI. The base camp will serve as hub of support & training for pro bono lawyers & advocates.
  • We have created a data system, legal templates, and are arranging for interpretation services. We are collecting asylum country reports.
  • We’ve established a toll-free hotline for the detained men and their families.
  • We’ve established an email for lawyers, advocates, and press to contact the on-the-ground team (otg-sheridan@innovationlawlab.org).
  • We’ve connected with our colleagues around the country to help piece families back together and collectively defend the law of asylum.
  • We’ve established a web page for up-to-date reports.
  • We’ve created a volunteer registration form.
  • We are working collaboratively with our colleagues at the Innovation Law Lab, Oregon Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Oregon Ready, and members across the state including faith communities and others.

What’s the strategy?

  • The ability of the detained men to access counsel is still very compromised (you can read our demand letters here and here).
  • We are working on creating better, more meaningful access that complies with the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States so that every individual experiences a fair process that is free from bias.

What happens next?

  • If you registered to be a volunteer, you will receive a few more emails about organizational things. If you haven’t registered, please do. There is a lot of work to be done.
  • We will soon have a scheduling system in place to train and deploy volunteers. We are working non-stop to get ready. To defend democracy and the rule of law means all-hands-on-deck and we are really glad you are on the team!
  • On Monday, June 18 at 5.30pm, you should be in Sheridan for a vigil planned by local advocacy and faith-based organizations. Details can be found here.

Be well & more soon,

The Sheridan Pro Bono Project

Chanpone Sinlapasai, Eileen Sterlock, Stephen Manning, Caroline van der Harten, Luis Garcia

Asylum Seekers Denied Access to Lawyers at Federal Prison in Oregon

One hundred and twenty three asylum seekers are being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a federal prison in Oregon without meaningful access to attorneys in violation of the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration laws, and international treaties said lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) and Innovation Law Lab. The groups today sent a letter to ICE outlining their concerns for the detainees’ rights. The Oregon detainees, all men, are among the 1,600 immigrants marked for expedited deportation that the Trump administration sent to federal prisons in five states in an unprecedented move last week.

“Detention should never be used to punish or deter a person from applying for asylum to save his life,” said Stephen Manning, immigration attorney and executive director of Innovation Law Lab. “It is a core principle of the United States that no person in this country should be imprisoned without due process of law.”

In the letter, the groups say that while the courts decide the fate of these men’s asylum claims, ICE must ensure that the federal prison at the very least complies with the current civil detention standards.

Last week, lawyers with Innovation Law Lab and the American Immigration Lawyers Association Oregon Chapter sent a letter to the prison warden offering pro bono lawyers for the detainees. The volunteer lawyers were able to meet with some detainees yesterday, but were not allowed to see detainees this morning and have been denied access through the weekend.

The groups say the detainees being held in Oregon are men from different countries around the world including India, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Ukraine, Guatemala, and Mexico. Many of the detainees applied for asylum at points of entry along the southern border of the U.S. Some of the men reported being forcibly separated from their partners and children and lack information about their family members’ whereabouts.

“There should be no deportations until all one hundred and twenty three men have meaningful access to lawyers,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. “These men  presented themselves to request asylum as allowed under U.S. laws and international agreements. They are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries and they deserve their day in court.”

Dos Santos explained that it will take weeks for each detainee to meet with an attorney for an initial assessment because the federal prison only has four meeting rooms and offers extremely limited visiting hours. The detainees also cannot call lawyers and the prison’s video teleconferencing system is broken.

“People come to the United States at great personal risk seeking freedom from despots and cruelty at the hands of their government,” dos Santos said. “We cannot meet them at our borders with more of what they have fought so desperately to escape.”

A vigil is planned outside the prison on Monday, June 18 at 5:30 p.m. Details about the event are online.

The letter to ICE is online at https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/lt_t_homan_6.15.18.pdf.

The letter to the warden is online at https://innovationlawlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Sheridan-Letter.pdf.

This release is online at https://aclu-or.org/en/press-releases/asylum-seekers-denied-access-lawyers-federal-prison-oregon

Please direct inquiries to Sarah Armstrong of the ACLU of Oregon at 503.756.3147.

Lawyers meet with 10 individuals detained at FCI Sheridan

On Thursday, June 14, upon the invitation of the Mexican Consulate, two attorneys were able to meet with 10 of the 123 individuals detained at FCI Sheridan to provide legal orientation and advice.

The attorneys learned the following:

  • Almost all of these individuals have been denied access to phone use, for any purpose, for up to a month.
  • Some have been separated from their children and spouses and lack information about their family members’ whereabouts.
  • Some some have critical and untended medical needs.
  • All were deprived of an advisement of their consular rights for nearly a month.

The Innovation Law Lab and other organizations will continue to advocate to assure that individuals at FCI Sheridan have access to legal counsel. If you would like to volunteer with these efforts, please fill out this survey.

Please direct any questions to VIctoria Bejarano Muirhead at victoria@innovationlawlab.org.