Happy Thanksgiving, 2015

Children walking at Dilley Detention Center

Children walking at Dilley Detention Center

Happy Thanksgiving, 2015.

It has been a year since my week-long volunteer in Artesia, New Mexico, during Thanksgiving week, defending women and children from Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) from deportation. The women and children were being held in a federal detention center, coined as a “family residential center,” in Artesia, New Mexico. But nothing about it was “familial”; with the ICE officers in their uniforms, the barbed wire fences that surrounded the facility, the requirement that the women and children be escorted to see their attorneys, the set hours that they may see their attorneys, the facility was in fact a prison. Since last year, so much have changed, and so little has changed.

Some highlights of the past year in family detention include:

In December 2014, the federal government closed down the Artesia facility. And it opened a brand spanking new “family residential” facility, in Dilley, Texas, transferring the women from Artesia to Dilley.

The legality of these facilities is now in question. In July, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Central District of California ruled that ICE’s policy of detaining children for weeks and months, alone and with their mothers, violates a 1997 settlement in Flores v. Johnson, a class action lawsuit brought by unaccompanied minors fleeing earlier violence in Central America. That settlement holds that ICE must release immigrant children “without unnecessary delay” to a legal guardian or adult custodian and make “continuous efforts on its part toward family reunification.” By October 22, ICE must prove that it has devised standards and procedures to ensure that children are only held for short periods and in “facilities that are safe and sanitary, consistent with concern for the particular vulnerability of minors,” never in “unlicensed or secure facilities” except in extraordinary circumstances. “Our position is, [ICE] could comply with the law and with Flores by releasing these mothers and kids in a week at most,” said Peter Schey, executive director at the California-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and attorney for the plaintiff class in Flores.

Since this decision, ICE has released more and more mothers and their children. But without giving notice to the mothers or informing them of their rights, ICE officials put on ankle monitors on the women upon their release. Yet, the mothers had not been charged with anything criminal, and pending deportation cases have never been considered (because it is not) a pending criminal prosecution. The judge’s ruling did not include such condition of release.

Prior to the immigration legal community and special interest groups’ involvement and stepping in to represent the Central American refugees (some time by summer 2014), ICE was deporting them without a hearing on their credible fear (or reasonable fear, depending on the type of relief the mothers were qualified to receive), a legal procedure afforded to those who are making asylum claims in defense of the government’s deportation claims. Now, ICE is providing those interviews, as they should; but the asylum officers (who conduct the interviews) have raised the standard at these interviews. ICE has also taken the position that even while a review of a negative finding is pending, it may and it has deported the women and their children. Since November 11, 2015, there have been 5 deportations from the Dilley facility alone, more than the previous 4 months.
For those keeping scores, is this a win or lose?  What are we, a nation of immigrants from the start, doing?
If you are wishing everyone well and to have a Happy Thanksgiving, and praying for peace and happiness to all, might I challenge you to do something to make a change so that such wishes and prayers do come true.

Work Authorization for Refugees

This is from a recent announcement by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regarding Refugee’s authorization to work and the I-94 document.

Employers and refugees should be aware that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has automated Form I-94 processing for refugees. The stamped paper form will no longer be provided to a refugee upon arrival, except in limited circumstances. A refugee can obtain a copy of their I-94 (record of admission) from Get I-94 Information.

For Employers:

Refugees are authorized to work because of their immigration status. Just as in the case of any employee, a refugee may choose to present any applicable document from the Lists of Acceptable Documents (I-9 Form). DHS provides refugees electronic and paper Forms I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) that evidence their status and employment authorization (since they are employment authorized incident to status), as well as Forms I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

The new electronic Form I-94 for refugees does not include an admission stamp but provides the class of admission as “RE” and an admit until date as “D/S.” If a refugee presents a Form I-94 computer-generated printout for Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification, the employer must accept it as a receipt establishing both employment authorization and identity for 90 days. No later than at the end of the 90-day receipt period, the refugee must present an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-766) or a combination of a List B document and an unrestricted Social Security card.

For Refugees:

When completing Section 1 of Form I-9 with a computer-generated Form I-94, refugees should check “alien authorized to work until” and may write “N/A” in the space provided. Record the “Admission (I-94) Record Number” from your Form I-94 printout as the “Form I-94 Admission Number.” Next enter your foreign passport number and country of issuance in the “Foreign Passport Number” and “Country of Issuance” spaces. If you entered the US without a foreign passport enter “N/A” in these spaces of Section 1.

For more information about I-94 Automation, please visit this webpage.

California Federal Judge Reaffirms Order to Release Detained Migrant Children

California Federal Judge Reaffirms Order to Release Detained Migrant Children

The immigrant detention center in Dilley, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Ilana Panich-Linsman, New York Times)

The immigrant detention center in Dilley, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Ilana Panich-Linsman, New York Times)

Blog written by Tiffany Keng

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered for the government to release children held in family detention centers “without unnecessary delay,” and with their mothers when possible. The family detention centers originally came as a response to the surge of Central American women and children, many of them unaccompanied minors, caught crossing the U.S. border in the last two years.  According to the Los Angeles Times, an estimated 1,400 women and children are currently being held at three detention centers, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania, as they attempt to pursue claims of asylum or other ways of remaining in the country.

Last month, in late July, Judge Gee found that these detention centers failed to meet the minimum legal requirements set out in a 1997 court settlement related to the detention of migrant children in the country illegally.  The 1997 settlement, Flores v. Reno, governed the treatment of unaccompanied minors who tried to enter the U.S. illegally without a parent. In her ruling, the judge determined that the settlement covered all children in detention, including those with a parent, and that the government had violated the terms of the settlement.

Despite the Department of Homeland Security’s request for the judge to reconsider her July ruling, Judge Gee reaffirmed her ruling last Friday, calling the government’s arguments “repackaged and reheated.”

Specifically, Judge Gee found that the family detention centers were a “material breach” of provisions in the 1997 settlement requiring that minors be placed in facilities that are not secured like prisons and are licensed to take care of children.  Currently, the centers are run by private prison contractors, not by agencies with state licenses to care for children.  The ruling found that the children had been held in “widespread deplorable conditions;” in some cases, those conditions include children being held in crowded rooms for days at a time without any place to sleep. The judge ordered the government to upgrade the conditions to ensure a “safe and sanitary” environment for children. Judge Gee also noted that immigration officials “routinely failed to proceed as expeditiously as possible to place unaccompanied minors, and in some instances, may still be unnecessarily dragging their feet now.”

Judge Gee ordered the government to release the children “without unnecessary delay” to a parent or other relative in the U.S., and in a significant mandate, to release the parent as well unless that person posed a flight risk or threat to national security.  She gave federal officials until October 23 to comply with her order.  Thereafter, Judge Gee’s order provides that the government may only hold families for five days, unless there are “extenuating circumstances,” such as when “70,000 Central American migrants flooded into America and overwhelmed the system,” in which case the government could extend the window for release to 20 days.

In response to the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement declaring that the Judge Gee’s clarifications in her August 21st ruling will “permit the government to process families apprehended at the border at family residential facilities consistent with congressional provided authority.”

Back in November 2014, Alison blogged about her pro bono work in Artesia, New Mexico, defending unrepresented women and children from Central America who were detained by the government (see Alison’s Thanksgiving post here).  It is amazing to see the continuing progress that has since been made by attorneys (mostly volunteer immigrant and nonimmigrant attorneys) and human rights groups fighting unceasingly for these women and children. This ruling is yet another confirmation that these family detention centers are wrong and need to end.

“Detention of children is inextricably linked with the ill-treatment of children” — Are you listening, President Obama?

Juan Mendez, Argentina, was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010.  Per his report to the UN on March 5, 2015, he found that detaining immigrant children results in “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”  He recommended that States that detain children immigrants, such as the United States, should “cease the detention of children, with or without their parents, on the basis of their immigration status.”  (See full UN report here.)

The report concluded that:

  • Detention of children should be used only for the shortest possible period of time, only if it is in the best interest of the child, and limited to exceptional cases.
  • States should adopt alternatives to detention for children whenever possible.
  • Minimum age of criminal responsibility no lower than 12 years old.
  • No life sentences without parole for children (and even lengthy sentences can be grossly disproportionate and amount to ill-treatment).
  • No use of restraints for children deprived of their liberty under any circumstance.
  • No solitary confinement for children deprived of their liberty.
  • No death penalty for children deprived of their liberty.
  • No corporal punishment for children deprived of their liberty.
  • No immigration detention (detention of children based on migration status is never in the best interests of child, is grossly disproportionate, and constitutes ill-treatment).
  • Special attention should be paid to children deprived of their liberty in health- and social-care institutions, including in private settings.

Are you listening President Obama?

Happy Thanksgiving in Artesia

Milexy Gavidia

Honduran woman and her 2 sons in Artesia NM, who just won her asylum case.

November 25, 2014 — Tuesday.  It is Day 5 on the ground in Artesia.  There are 5 new volunteer attorneys on the ground this week, including myself.  There are 3 attorneys who are still here from last week.  Monday and Tuesday mornings included a frenzy of meetings through interpreter to prepare the clients for their bond motions in court (motions seeking to have the women released on their own recognizance or on a low bond because of the lack of evidence they would pose a flight or security risk).  The women were granted low bonds, $3000-$4000.  To put that number in perspective, prior to the Pro Bono Project’s involvement, the women were not being bonded out, or were given 5-digits amount bonds (I heard of one as high as $20,000), which essentially is a no-bond, so they remain in custody.  How would their families ever raise that kind of money?
But the best news was of a Honduran mother of 2, after having been placed in custody in Artesia since July 2014, through the work of the project’s pro bono attorneys, won her asylum case.  This was after days of trial before a federal judge, with witnesses and expert testimonies.  Her story is here.    
So far, every asylum case brought to trial in Artesia as been a win for the woman on trial.  It is now, 10-women, 0-government (but who’s keeping score). 🙂
What a Happy Thanksgiving story this was.  As the article stated:  “At its core, Thanksgiving is a story about immigration.”  How appropriate it was that we spent our Thanksgiving in Artesia.
Alison Yew
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