Legal Representation Crucial for Refugee Children

The stories below are based off real client experiences. However, all names and specific details have been altered as a matter of privacy and confidentiality.

Juana was 11 years old when she came to the U.S. from Honduras. She lived with her grandparents, but they could not protect her from the violence engulfing their country. A cousin helped her make the treacherous journey from Honduras to the U.S. She got across the southern border in to Texas, but she was quickly apprehended by border patrol officers. The border patrol officers explained her rights to her including her right to make a phone call, her right to be represented by an attorney and her right to see an immigration judge. The problem was that the officer read these rights to her in English. She only spoke Spanish. She unwittingly nodded her head, and she was transferred to a facility with other children who came into the U.S. without their parents. She was ultimately released to her mother in Kansas.

Unknown to her, and her mother, she also was placed in immigration proceedings and given an immigration hearing. She had no idea how the immigration legal system worked and neither did her mom. Juana was just excited to be reunited with her mother. Unfortunately, neither understood Juana’s obligation to go to court to see an immigration judge. Juana did not attend her hearing and was ordered deported from the U.S. She now faces the daunting task of trying to reopen her case and see if she is eligible for some sort of relief or get deported to the violent country she fled. At this point, the difference between having an attorney and not having an attorney could be the difference between protection in the U.S. or potential persecution or death in Honduras.

For the past two years, women and children refugees from three Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have come to the U.S. in record numbers due to significant violence and failing police systems in their countries. Many of the women and children who come to the U.S. are eligible for asylum. According to the Asylum Office, part of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, close to 90% of families who have come to the U.S. have shown a credible fear of persecution or torture. Legally, this means that the Asylum Office has determined that they have a significant possibility to be granted asylum in the U.S.

Unfortunately, just having shown a credible fear of persecution does not protect all of these refugees. After these refugees are found to have a credible fear they are placed in immigration court before and immigration judge. If the refugees are unaccompanied minors, they do not have to show a credible fear of persecution at the border. However, they are still placed in immigration court. For both groups of refugees, the presence of an attorney can be the difference between getting asylum in the U.S. and getting deported to the country they fled.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, almost 50 percent of unaccompanied children are unrepresented at immigration proceedings. Of all the deportation orders issued by immigration judges against children in 2014 and 2015, almost 90 percent of them were unrepresented. The number of deportation orders against children for failing to appear in court (also called in absentia orders) were even higher at almost 97 percent. These numbers were similar for families. 86 percent of families ordered removed were unrepresented and almost 97 percent of families order deported in absentia were unrepresented.

These striking numbers show the absolute necessity for representation of these refugees. When they come to the U.S., they have no idea how to navigate the treacherous maze of immigration law, they do not speak the language, and often they have limited education and little money. For unaccompanied children, particularly younger children, they have no ability to speak for or defend themselves in court or the asylum office, if they even make it to court or the asylum office.

When I tell acquaintances unfamiliar with immigration law that immigrants, even child refugees from Central America, are not appointed attorneys, many are shocked. Criminal defendants are required to have representation because of the implication of prison time or other deprivation of liberty. Despite the grave consequences of immigration proceedings, particularly for these refugees, immigration cases are considered civil. There is no requirement for appointment of counsel.

However, Senator Harry Reid recently introduced a bill to require appointment of counsel, even at the cost of the government if necessary, for unaccompanied children, disabled individuals, and victims of abuse, torture or violence. The bill would also permit the immigration court to appoint attorneys for any person in immigration court, although it is not required. This is a step in the right direction. Although there is little hope it will pass as a bill, the importance of representation must be acknowledged, as highlighted by the statistics from TRAC. No refugee or child should be ordered deported without representation from competent attorneys.


DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. If you are in removal proceedings or need legal advice on your immigration case, please contact an immigration attorney.

When Opportunity Knocks, Answer the Door

For the last 10 years, the people have waited. Waited for Congress to provide a solution for the millions in need of immigration reform. Families have waited. Businesses have waited. And yet, still, nothing. It is unlikely that relief is coming any time soon.

The reality is that there is no simple solution to the immigration law controversy. The world is facing a refugee crisis that includes millions of people who cannot return home. Gangs, poverty, extremists and corruption become inescapable shadows for a people searching for a safe haven. Despite the humanitarian emergency, countries struggle to find answers.

In the US, immigration has always been an issue that is used by politicians to divide. Each generation of immigrants that arrives, rushes to try and pull the bridge up behind them. Despite being a nation of immigrants, the US is at constant war with its identity. The reasons behind this disharmony are deeply rooted and complicated.  And yet, when opportunity knocks, even ever so softly, so many fail to answer the door.

In 2012, frustrated with yet another stalled Immigration bill, the President mandated that certain people who were brought to the US as children, if they met the criteria, be shielded from the threat of deportation. This relief, commonly referred to “DACA”, guaranteed work authorization and an opportunity for a stable life. With the ability to obtain work, a social security card and a driver’s license, it gave DACA eligible individuals their identity.

Over half a million people came out of the shadows into the light. Contributing to the economy and their communities, they finally had a tangible glimmer of hope. And yet, so many, many more, simply did not apply. It makes little sense.

Sometimes opportunity only knocks once. The next election is about 13 months away and as the clock ticks down the Obama Presidency, the future has never been so uncertain. With so many unknowns, those who remain DACA eligible but still have not applied, need to act quickly. Those who remain unsure or unconvinced, need to seek out the help of an immigration lawyer or a competent immigration law firm and seek answers.  Time is running out.  When opportunity knocks, open the door. Opportunity may just be about to leave.

How Immigration Became Hate Speech

This morning, two journalists were killed by a man who, reportedly, was angry about racial issues. In a moment, two young lives were cut short and a nation again reeled into stunned silence. But, this isn’t about gun laws or gun restrictions. That is left for another day. What this is about is the level of hate and hate speech that seems to be apparent these days. Honestly, it is heartbreaking.

Turn to any media outlet and what you hear is hate. Hate because of race, hate because of gender, hate because of sexual preference, hate because of religious beliefs and hate because of national origin. Hate has become the message no matter what the topic.

When tragedy strikes, communities rally, they rise in solidarity and give each other comfort. But then, it all goes back to being the same. Nothing changes. Hate speech continues to be spewed and the media continues to give it a stage. Are we not better than this?

As the focus of the nation shifts to the elections in 2016, candidates have taken to spreading hate not only for each other, but have also begun advocating a hatred toward one another. Divisive speech has become the norm. Why do we continue to allow this?

America is a unique place. It is great in its ability to stand as an example of people from everywhere living and thriving in harmony. But, this harmony is at risk. As hate speech gains traction, the fabric of America is at risk of being torn. Can we really allow this to happen?

Immigration has become the latest weapon of choice. Instead of celebrating our differences, the speech has become toxic, pitting one group of people against another. Those who are in leadership roles, or who want to be in leadership roles, have made it their calling to exploit the fears and insecurities of groups of people. But how is this leadership?

As the debate heats up over birthright citizenship and walls at the border, all that is gained is more divisive, hate speech. What are missing are real solutions to difficult, complex laws that often cause more heartache than people ever hear about or understand. Honest dialog that reasonably examines issues of citizenship, the long time delays of an overburdened immigration system and the backlogs that cause immigration cases to linger in immigration courts across the nation are often left with a cursory review. The often harsh reality of a system that provides limited to no relief for families, employers and those fleeing hostile lands is lost in the sound bites that take over the 24 hour news cycle. So how does this change?

The preamble of the Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Perhaps time has come to step back the hate speech and come together as a people to demand that our leaders be defined in their ability to bring us together, to encourage tranquility, and protect this and future generations. It is after all what the founding fathers had set out to do so long ago.


Immigration Courts in Kansas City, Nationally Ignore Best Interests of Citizen Children

The stories below are based off real client experiences. However, all names and specific details have been altered as a matter of privacy and confidentiality.

Whether they call it “anchor babies” or “birth tourism,” anti-immigrant groups are yet again attacking the right to U.S. citizenship by birth, which has been protected by the U.S. Constitution for almost 150 years. Earlier this month, conservative U.S. Senator David Vitter proposed an amendment to limit birthright citizenship to children of U.S. citizen or LPR parents.

Sen. Vitter and his followers are ignoring the interests of children who have no choice in where they are born, where they live and in to which family they are born. These children born to undocumented parents are already ignored under the unforgiving U.S. immigration legal system.

In family cases involving children, like adoption and custody, state courts have universally adopted a “best interests of the child” standard in making decisions that affect the child. This is not the case in immigration cases.

One of the most common forms of relief for undocumented parents is cancellation of removal. Under this relief, parents who are facing deportation may obtain permanent lawful status if, among other requirements, they can prove their children will suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if they are deported.

Through its decisions, the immigration courts have interpreted this requirement strictly and ignored the best interests of the child. Unless the child has a learning or physical disability, the parent likely will not win the case. This has dramatic negative effects for hundreds of U.S. citizen children with good parents like John and Kelly

John and Kelly are undocumented parents of two U.S. citizen children, 5 and 10. Both children are healthy and well-behaved. They are active and do well academically. Their parents are very involved in their lives and raise their children under their strong Christian values.

John was recently arrested by immigration officials based on a twelve-year-old DUI and placed in removal proceedings. Under the current immigration system, John likely will not qualify for cancellation of removal. Under current immigration policy, their children are young and healthy and could more easily adjust to life in a new country if the family follows him to his home country, and if the children stay it is merely a parental choice. Unfortunately, these statements ignore the larger issues caused by the divide of a successful and tight-knit family.

In these cases, immigration courts do not look at the case from the perspective of the children to determine their best interests. Several scientific studies have shown that forcibly removing a parent like John from a cohesive family unit causes significant short-term and long-term emotional and physical hardship to the children. Unfortunately, immigration courts have not considered these studies or the children’s best interests. Until courts consider these interests, hundreds of children, who had no choice in where they were born or who their parents are, will face irreversible harm when their families are torn apart.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. If you are in removal proceedings or need legal advice on your immigration case, please contact an immigration attorney.

The Border Security Myth: A Kansas City Attorney’s Take

The stories below are based off real client experiences. However, all names and specific details have been altered as a matter of privacy and confidentiality.

Republican politicians continually state that the U.S. needs to secure the U.S.-Mexican border before Congress can pass any other immigration reforms. This statement may rile up conservative supporters but it does not have much basis in reality.

There are more border patrol agents and miles of fence at the border than ever before in U.S. history. Overall, apprehensions and deportations at the border are higher. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are effectively securing the border. This should not be a hurdle in comprehensive reform. In fact, further security measures without reforms may hurt the U.S. and immigrants alike.

The militarization of the border, without any meaningful immigration reform, has led to several unintended consequences. First, it has forced people attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization to resort to drastic and often life-threatening alternatives. These people are forced to trek through rough desert terrain to cross the border. Many others are forced to use smugglers who may have no concern for immigrants’ health or safety.

Additionally, due to the increased security and the danger of entering the U.S., many people are forced to remain in the U.S. rather than return to Mexico. It’s important to understand the motivations for Mexican and Central American migration to the U.S. The motivations are overwhelmingly economical or relate to a fear of their home country.  Migrants have families and few opportunities for employment. There only hope of providing for and protecting their family is to migrate to the U.S.

Take for example, Oscar. He lived in rural southern Mexico. His family owned a small batch of land for farming. The family barely grew enough crops to feed the family. There was rarely enough to sell. Oscar lived in a one room house with his wife and two children. The house had dirt floors, and his family had limited access to running water. He had nothing to support his family. He has little education because he was forced to help his family at the farm growing up. He could not find jobs elsewhere in Mexico because of his poor education and his status. He had no business connections and no transferable work skills. So he traveled to the U.S. Were he met a cousin, who helped find a job for him in the agricultural industry. Oscar sent money back to his family for support. He wanted to visit them, but he knew the dangers of crossing back to the U.S. and the likelihood of getting stuck in the same Mexican poverty as before. So he stayed. Eventually, his family joined him in the U.S. and stayed also.

The U.S. does not need more border security, it needs smarter border security and comprehensive reform. It needs to consider the motivations for migration, like Oscar’s, and encourage lawful immigration through expansion of temporary worker visa program and other programs. It also needs better training for its border agents.

Instead of actually addressing the real issues, Republicans in Congress recently introduced a border bill increasing the amount of fencing along the border and setting priority deadlines to increase security. The director of the Department of Homeland Security called these priorities “unworkable” and “not a serious effort at legislating border security.” Furthermore, we are about two weeks away from a potential DHS shutdown, which would force the agency charged with securing our borders to operate without sufficient funding. Congress is playing politics rather than debating the issues and passing comprehensive reform that would go a long way in resolving some of the most pressing immigration issues.



DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. If you are in removal proceedings or need legal advice on your immigration case, please contact an immigration attorney.

Piecemeal Immigration Reform is a Bad Idea

During a Fox News online telecast, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte stated that legislation must be passed to tackle the issues regarding millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., the workforce’s demand for more high- and low-skilled labor and more. Continue reading “Piecemeal Immigration Reform is a Bad Idea”