On Friday, February 1, Nora Phillips, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) fighting to protect the rights of vulnerable asylum seekers arriving at our southern border, was detained by Mexican authorities and expelled from that country. From an L.A. Times story published in the wake of the expulsion, we learned very disturbing details. In addition to Nora, Erika Pinheiro, another attorney, had also been forced to leave Mexico. Both are lawyers for Al Otro Lado, a non-profit legal services organization providing critical services in the border region. Nora was detained for hours in Mexico before being sent back to the U.S. She was told her passport had been flagged for security concerns. As stated in the L.A. Times article, Mexican officials subjected her to an extensive interrogation, including about how much money she was carrying, whether she had weapons training, and whether she ever had been arrested or convicted of a crime. The news story also describes that recently two reporters were denied entry to Mexico after covering the caravan traveling toward the border.
These incidents are reason to be alarmed and concerned. Immigration lawyers have been a thorn in the side of the Trump administration ever since hundreds of our members joined at airports across the country to protest the first Muslim ban and provide representation to affected people arriving at ports of entry. We have continued to raise alarms, to sue when appropriate, and to use the power of our voices against the deportation machine and the invisible wall the Administration is building to block legal immigration.
It’s no wonder that all our efforts, combined with the immense and important work that so many of our members do every single day, might be viewed as a threat and trigger backlash. But fighting our hardest to do our work as lawyers for the people who need assistance is what we do. For many of us, it is our calling and our life’s work. We are using the tools available to us as lawyers to work toward a better, more just immigration system. No one should be punished for that.
On Saturday, February 2, AILA went on record to defend lawyers like Nora and Erika. It would be illegal and unconscionable if there was retaliation in any way against lawyers at Al Otro Lado or any other organization doing this important legal work. Since learning of these events, we have called on our government for transparency and to disclose why the attorneys’ passports were flagged causing them to be denied entry to Mexico. AILA is calling for an immediate Congressional investigation into what occurred to the Al Otro Lado attorneys. And we are continuing our work in facilitating information sharing between volunteer attorneys who have gone to the border to help.
The hypocrisy here is that the Trump administration is falsely promising that asylum seekers will have a fair shot at asylum, even as it implements the “Remain in Mexico” plan. What happened to Nora and Erika looks like an attempt to subvert the work or deter the very people who can help ensure that due process is real.
AILA is committed to ensuring the right of our members and other immigration attorneys to do our critical work in representing our clients without fear of governmental interference or retaliation.
AILA stands with all of the courageous attorneys who are fighting for asylum seekers’ rights. We stand with our members. We stand with the vulnerable asylum seekers trying to find safety and refuge. We stand ready to fight.