Author: Laura Lichter

ICE Fights to Detain and Deport Teenage Girl Despite Stay

Kimberly was just 17 when she went in front of an Atlanta immigration judge and was told she would be deported. There was no legal orientation. No one asked her why she left her native Honduras or whether she was afraid to be sent back there. Even the lawyer her family hired didn’t tell her she could fight her case—and worse, actually asked the judge to order her removed. Now, after nearly two months in a for-profit immigration jail in Irwin County, Georgia—under conditions that would make you weep—Kimberly is literally fighting for her life. And by the time you read this, she may already be gone. In 2014, Kimberly fled Honduras with her little sister—gang members had threatened to take her as their sexual property. At best, Kimberly could expect to be passed from man to man, but girls who don’t submit are often kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered, their mutilated bodies left as a warning to others. Honduras was the murder capital of the world in 2013—our own State Department recognizes a host of human rights violations, including killings, weak law enforcement and judiciary systems, and abuse and violence against women. There are few, if any protections from a government that is both corrupted and outgunned by gangs notorious for targeting women and girls. Physicians for Human Rights shared the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women report,...

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Fighting to #EndFamilyDetention

I was on a flight to San Antonio Sunday morning and a short while after that was making my way across open farmland to Dilley, Texas, about an hour and half southeast. For this week, I’ll be heading up a team of legal volunteers for CARA at the euphemistically named “South Texas Family Residential Center.”  It’s not some family welcome center:  it’s a jail. The CARA program is a joint effort by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and local and national nonprofit legal services providers, to help women and young children who were jailed by immigration authorities navigate through these complex procedures.  We’ll be here for a week, until the next team arrives.  And the next, and the next, and the next, until this practice of detaining families and bona fide refugees is stopped, once and for all. The detainees aren’t just people violating our immigration laws and seeking to enter the U.S. for work or to join family.  In fact, the numbers prove that the overwhelming majority of these families are simply seeking refuge from horrific violence in their home countries.  Some have relatives in the U.S. that fled before them, others have no one here, but all left their home countries because to stay would mean further harm. Despite proving that they have valid claims and undergoing a security and background check, they are detained and subject...

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Artesia, Day Two (and a half)

Has it really only been two days? I guess technically, it’s three since I’m writing this at 1:30am. I have another long day ahead, but it’s important to get this out and, you know, you can sleep when you’re dead. I feel like I’ve been here for weeks. The intensity of this experience has everyone in its grip. No one is getting much sleep:  volunteers get to the facility at 7:00am because Credible Fear Interviews (CFIs) start at 7:30am. CFIs are held all day long and into the evening. We understand the Asylum Office is trying to get its officers to call it quits by 7pm, but that’s not always happening. Just doing the math is daunting:  five asylum officers, twelve hours of interviews a day, seven days a week. It would take 1000 hours of attorney time to prepare these cases and we don’t have anywhere near that kind of time. We stagger back to our dear “War Room” at the end of the day to celebrate our victories and commiserate when we lose. We trade stories and indignation over what new bullsh_ _  surfaced during the day and brainstorm how to make the process a little less miserable and a little more fair. We strategize on how to get the detainees the help they need and the due process they deserve. The pizza tastes great after a...

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Day One in Artesia: Notes from the Front Lines

We drove from Denver to Artesia yesterday, a small town in central New Mexico, about three hours from anywhere.  It’s about a nine hour drive down from the last high passes of southern Colorado, through the low scrub of northern New Mexico into the high barren desert.  For hundreds of miles, the horizon was punctuated by nothing but long, low mesas, and thunderheads and storm squalls in the distance. It’s a stark, beautiful landscape, which got drier and more barren the closer we got to our destination. Until recently, Artesia was probably best known as home of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).  In June, Artesia became home to over 600 Central American women and children, housed in portable units on the FLETC campus.  It’s supposed to be a place to house migrants in a “residential” setting while their cases are reviewed for potential claims.  In reality, the facility feels more like an internment camp designed to be a deportation mill. First, when you create a detention center in the middle of nowhere, it’s obvious that you’re going to run in to problems.  Staffing, housing, visitation protocols, etc… are immediate concerns and only increase the daily misery.  People are sick–the mothers we meet all tell us their children either refuse to eat or have constant diarrhea.  They don’t have proper clothing against the air conditioning and are constantly...

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The Good, the Not-so-Bad and the Ugly: USCIS Announces DACA Renewal Procedures

Today, USCIS published long-awaited guidance for renewals under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, including a new Form I-821D for both initial and renewal applications.  The guidelines should mean a streamlined process for most renewals, but the agency missed a real opportunity in how government processing times impact those who don’t—or can’t—apply months in advance. The Good:  For most young immigrants who already have DACA, the renewal process should be fairly straightforward.  In order to be considered, a renewal applicant cannot have left the United States (without permission from the government) since August 15, 2012 and must have continuously resided in the country since they were granted DACA.  They must also not have any disqualifying criminal history. Consistent with prior policy, USCIS took a real-world approach to the educational requirement.  An initial grant of DACA requires that the applicant be in school, have graduated High School, obtained a GED, or show proof of continuing educational efforts.  For renewals, the agency is not asking for further proof that the individual graduated or even continued in their studies.  For those who were forced to drop out or stop schooling due to financial or other difficulties, this practical solution will be a real boon to a lot of families and young people just starting out. The Not-So-Bad:  USCIS wants DACA renewals in early.  So much so, apparently, that they...

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