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Tag: Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (page 1 of 5)

Intern Spotlight: Kayla

Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

What does the day-to-day look like for a social work intern at HIRC? Well, it could look like many different things. At HIRC, we work with a diverse population of clients. Our work consists of providing both emotional support and case management support based on a case-by-case basis. Depending on a client’s needs, a general workday could consist of facilitating cognitive behavioral therapy focused interventions during an office or home visit, supporting attorneys during client interviews that may consist of discussing emotionally heavy topics, or accompanying clients to their local clinic to help them apply for health insurance. Each day can look different depending on the clients’ needs and goals for the day.

There are many highlights and some challenges in doing this work. I enjoyed being immersed in the different cultures and backgrounds of our clients. Social work interns get the chance to build a different kind of relationship with clients through home visits and consistent communication. Another highlight is the relationship that is formed between attorneys, law students and social work interns. This experience is one-of-a-kind as the social work interns and the legal clinic create a team atmosphere where each person supports and learns from one another.

Two challenges that comes to mind include the locations that some of the clients live in and adapting certain clinical interventions for the specific population being worked with in a way that is relevant and helpful for clients. Some clients live very far from Cambridge and this can make it more difficult in terms of providing consistent emotional support and trying to schedule home or office visits. Another challenge I was faced with was learning how to provide emotional support in a way that is validating and supportive to a population that is going through difficult circumstances, which can bring up valid fears and concerns. As an intern, it is important to take the time to check in with attorneys about current laws that could affect a client’s well-being, as well as to be aware of any current policy changes that may be relevant to the case to better understand how to support any needs that may arise.

Lastly, an important part of the social work intern role at HIRC is the intersection of law and social work. The intersection of law and social work is one of the most intriguing aspects of this work. As a social work intern, you are considered to be apart of the legal team, which means that you work with attorneys and law students on mutual cases together. Therefore, in addition to supporting clients’ needs, you also check in and coordinate with attorneys in regards to any important topics that may have come up during individual social work visits that may help the legal team build their client’s case. As a team we learn from one another and support each other with recommendations within our area of expertise. Social work interns learn about current laws and policies that may or may not affect the clients we work with in regards to accessing resources and general mental health, and attorneys and law students learn tips in regards to social work skills, such as positive communication tools, and sharing empathy when interviewing and meeting with clients who may come in with a history of trauma. It is a unique dynamic that is not common among many field placements.

A large takeaway that I will bring with me from this internship is how diverse the role of a social worker can be. Before working at HIRC, the intersection of social work and law was something that never crossed my mind. This experience made me realize that social workers can play an important role in various settings, not just in common settings such as a school or a clinic.

This post was written by former HIRC social work intern Kayla Peña. Kayla is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work (MSW) at Simmons College.

Guatemalan Woman’s Asylum Bid Revived Over New Dangers

Via Law360 

By: Kaitlyn Burton

A Guatemalan woman has another shot at asylum after the First Circuit said Friday that the Board of Immigration Appeals must asses her evidence that the Latin American country has become more dangerous for members of a Mayan activist organization she is a part of.

A three-judge panel ruled that the BIA erred in denying Marta Perez-Tino’s bid to reopen her immigration case, saying that her evidence of new dangers for the members of Organizacion Maya K’iche’, or OMK, in Guatemala could excuse her tardy filing, which came more than seven years after the board denied her previous asylum bid.

“It appears that, as Perez-Tino contends, the BIA mistakenly ‘assumed that, because Ms. Perez-Tino voluntarily associated herself with OMK, that condition was a personal circumstance and could not support her motion to reopen,’” the panel said.

An immigration judge denied Perez-Tino’s asylum application in April 2009, and in October 2010, the BIA rejected her appeal of that decision. She then filed a bid in February 2018 to reopen her immigration case, but the BIA denied her request last August, saying that it was too late since she had not proved that circumstances in her country had changed.

However, the First Circuit also said that the BIA was wrong to have rejected another argument from Perez-Tino that the expected deportation of former paramilitary commander Juan Samayoa, whom she alleges tortured and murdered her relatives, from the U.S. to Guatemala would put her in added danger.

The BIA had found that Perez-Tino failed to adequately explain why she did not mention Samayoa’s attacks during her earlier immigration hearing in 2009. But the circuit court said that Perez-Tino had clearly explained that she did not mention him because he had not been arrested until 2017, eight years after her hearing.

“We fail to see why this explanation does not ‘adequately explain’ Perez-Tino’s decision to refer to Samayoa for the first time in her 2018 motion to reopen,” the panel said, noting that Perez-Tino had also provided the BIA with multiple affidavits from friends and family attesting to her claims.

However, the panel did not disagree with the BIA rejecting Perez-Tino’s argument that the shifting political landscape in Guatemala amounted to changed country conditions.

“Perez-Tino develops no argument that the BIA’s determination that there had not been a ‘material change in circumstances’ with respect to this aspect of her attempted showing to the contrary was unsupported by substantial evidence,” the panel said.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment. A representative for Perez-Tino did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Perez-Tino is represented by Nancy J. Kelly, John Willshire Carrera and Maggie Morgan of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services.

The government is represented by Jacob A. Bashyrov of the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation.

The case is Perez-Tino v. Barr, case number 18-1860, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Beyond education and litigation: the social work program at HIRC

Via HIRC

By: Mariana Ferreira

Before interning at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) my understanding of social work was limited to the definitions I had picked up from psychology textbooks. I knew that social work entailed providing people with emotional support. Beyond that, I vaguely understood what kind of work ‘social services’ encompassed. In my mind, social work was like the icing on the cake: important, but not necessarily a defining feature of the dessert. That changed when I interpreted a client meeting together with HIRC’s social worker, Liala Buoniconti. I realized that social work is not the icing at all, but a much more critical ingredient in this metaphorical legal clinic cake.

HIRC clinical social worker Liala Buoniconti

I remember the meeting was particularly difficult because the legal team needed the client, Julia*, to recount deeply traumatic abuse she suffered in her past. It became clear that Julia was struggling to answer some questions posed by her legal team. This was, in part, because she did not understand their context and, in part, because the questions were about painful things that she wished never to remember. Liala drew on her social work expertise in the meeting to make Julia feel more comfortable answering questions and to make the legal team more comfortable asking them. When Julia did not understand a question, Liala’s culturally sensitive lens allowed her to rephrase questions in a way that was relevant to where and when Julia grew up. Liala also took the time to slow down the pace of the interview to acknowledge why it is so common to have trouble accessing memories when the subject is traumatic. Julia then appeared more at ease, knowing that difficulties with memory are not only typical for trauma survivors, but actually a coping mechanism that many use to deal with the associated emotions. Without Liala in the meeting, Julia would not have been able to share as much as she did about her story with us, and she might have run the risk of becoming re-traumatized.

When certain questions sent Julia into a painful memory, Liala noticed that Julia was dissociating. In an effort to help Julia regain a sense of control, Liala would employ sensory and breathing techniques to help ground Julia in the present. Grounding is a technique used in the social work field, aimed at trying to help someone focus on their present safety, rather than re-living the emotional intensity of their trauma. After the interview, Liala sat with Julia to provide critical emotional support, and to keep her in the present: safe and far away from the people and the place that brought her so much suffering. It was after this meeting that I began to understand how integral social workers are to HIRC’s mission. From addressing the mental health of attorneys, students, and clients to facilitating the logistics of legal objectives, social workers complete the HIRC team.

Together, the legal and social work teams strive to promote justice and better lives for immigrants. Liala shared the following quote with me from Judith Herman, a specialist in the psychiatry of trauma who wrote the groundbreaking work Trauma and Recovery, “Trauma robs the victim of a sense of power and control; the guiding principle of recovery is to restore power and control.” I believe this quote represents the goal of the social work program at HIRC. In addition to Liala, there is a team of social work interns who are completing their fieldwork at HIRC while pursuing their Masters of Social Work degrees. As attorneys work to build clients’ legal case, the social work team attends to their emotional and resource needs in order to facilitate their full participation in their own lives and in the legal process.

When working one-on-one with clients, social workers foster healing relationships that give clients someone to trust. Sometimes, social workers create this relationship by providing emotional support for those struggling with the toll of their immigration case. Other times, social workers connect people to community resources such as food banks or therapists. They also explain mail that people may not understand, find affordable furniture for their homes, accompany them on public transportation so they know how to reach our office, and help them with other everyday life tasks that many people may take for granted.

The social work team also teaches clinic attorneys and students how to be trauma-sensitive. Liala co-teaches the class Trauma, Refugees and Asylum Law, guest speaks at the clinic training and Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Seminar, and conducts trauma-sensitivity orientations for the Harvard Immigration Project. She provides advice to students and attorneys on dealing with cultural differences and with survivors of trauma.

I have learned a lot from Liala during my three months at HIRC. I have come to realize that she is one of the most essential members of the clinic. She creates a safe and supportive environment for everyone at HIRC, including clients, law students, and attorneys, to cope with the intense emotional experience of working on asylum cases. Without the social work team, HIRC could not accomplish all it does today for immigrants. The inclusion of the social work program embodies what the clinic is all about: serving the immigrant community in hopes of improving their lives and their access to justice.

*Julia’s name was changed to respect client confidentiality.

 

Putting Clinical Education into Action at HIRC

Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: HIRC Blog

Students who work at HIRC come to the Clinic with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. For some students, it may be their first time working directly with clients, while for others it might be their first time engaging with immigration law or appearing in court. For Krista Oehlke ’20, that day came in June of 2019, when she arrived at the Boston Immigration Courthouse with Albert M. Sacks Teaching and Advocacy Fellow Zachary Albun and their client Carla*, a woman from Central America who was seeking asylum.

“I slept about an hour before the morning of the hearing,” Oehlke admitted.

Leading up to this day, there had been months of preparation and practice. Over the spring semester, Oehlke and Ava Liu ‘20 worked tirelessly to compile country conditions and expert testimony to strengthen Carla’s case, ultimately submitting close to eight hundred pages of evidence. The students also worked closely with Carla and her family in the U.S. and overseas, drafting affidavits and preparing them for their day in court, as well as working with the HIRC social work team to connect them to valuable social services.

Albun said he was impressed by the students’ hard work, noting: “The students developed effective case strategy in response to government decisions like Matter of A-B- which created new challenges for asylum-seekers and refugees.”

He was also happy to report that Oehlke did an excellent job at her first time in immigration court, leading the direct examination of Carla and effectively engaging with and responding to the government attorney. In the end, the judge granted Carla asylum and the government waived appeal.

“It was such an honor to be able to represent a woman as strong as Carla,” said Oehlke. “She inspired me tremendously.”

Liu echoed her admiration for Carla and added “To use the law as a tool to help someone so meaningfully is an experience I will never forget.”

Liu also gave a call to action to her fellow classmates, saying “I hope that other HLS graduates will see the massive need for skillful advocacy in the American immigration system and work in immigration, whether that be full-time or through pro-bono opportunities.”

We are incredibly grateful to all our clinical students, past and present, for their contributions to our Clinic and we hope their experiences at HIRC inspire them to continue to advocate for the rights of immigrants wherever their lives and careers may take them.

 

*Client’s name has been changed to respect her privacy

A Guinean Political Activist was Granted Asylum in the U.S. After Fleeing Political Persecution

By: Angelica Merino Monge and Logan Seymour

Source: Pixabay

In 2009, Imani*, a citizen of Guinea, West Africa, fled the country with the youngest of her four children. From 2009 to 2011, the legal team at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC), worked extensively on Imani’s asylum case, which was granted in 2011. Now, eight years after being granted asylum, Imani has rebuilt her life and career in the United States. As a U.S citizen, she remains active in her community by working at Greater Boston Legal Services as an interpreter for Fulani-speaking migrants looking for safety in the United States. Imani says that she misses Guinea: “I love my country, I love my people, it is just still not safe there.” However, she knows that her family is safe in the United States and has made Boston her new home.

Imani fled Guinea out of fear of political persecution because of her participation in an opposition party. Imani’s political opinions and her activism for the equality of women, the right to education, and the need for fundamental political and social change in Guinea made her a target. After her involvement in a rally against Guinea’s military government, which resulted in the beating and massacre of peaceful protesters, Imani received threatening phone calls. “I was one of the victims, I got beaten, I got my car broken, and after that, I was threatened through messages like ‘we are going to kill you and we are looking for you,’” she recalled. Imani knew she could not stay in Guinea without risking her family’s safety, and so she fled to the United States to look for security.

When Imani arrived in 2009, she went to Boston Medical Center for health-related issues, and once there, the center’s social worker put her in touch with Boston Center for Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR), which then connected her with HIRC.  The clinical team—including Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Assistant Clinic Director, along with clinical students Gabriela Vega (JD’12) and Kendra Sena (JD’12)—worked quickly on Imani’s asylum case to meet the one-year filing deadline. In 2011, Imani received good news – she had been approved for asylum. “I was so so happy! I was taking English classes when Sabi gave me a call that I was approved.  There was a little party in the class,” she remembers. After her asylum approval, Imani was referred to Catholic Charities, where they worked on her family reunification and green card applications. In 2012, Imani was finally able to reunite with her children.

Imani describes the legal team at HIRC as a family. Reflecting on the experience, Imani asserted, “We appreciate everything the clinic did for us, they helped us grow, and they follow up, it’s not like, okay, you got your papers bye-bye… If I get stuck down the road, I can call them and get help.” To this day, Imani stays in contact with HIRC, and she made a great impression on the clinical students who worked on her case. Kendra says, “I was incredibly honored to work with Imani to prepare her asylum application.  She taught me so much about being an advocate for one’s self, family, and community, and I am humbled to have played a small part in her story.” Gabriela saw her own mother in Imani. “Like Imani, my own mother immigrated to the United States with a very young child (me), and as I grew older, I saw her more and more as my own personal hero. In Imani, I felt the presence of another hero who, like my mother, endured and overcame so much, with the weight of the world on her shoulders, to pave the path of a better life for the next generation. Imani was incredibly respectful, professional, and an absolute pleasure to work with. I was in awe of her strength and bravery every time we met to discuss her story.”

*Client’s name has been changed to respect her privacy

 

 

A Honduran Activist Pursues Justice in the Face of Persecution

By: Alexis Farmer

Source: Pixabay

“I suffered persecution because of my strong beliefs that the government should guarantee the basic rights of its people,” said Elvia*. The 57-year-old mother of two from Yoro, Honduras was persecuted by corrupt political actors in Honduras for her activism. Elvia never thought about living in the U.S. until she found her house burned to the ground and the death threats she received became increasingly more acute.

Elvia had aspirations to become a teacher. At 18-years-old, Elvia, with hair as dark as shoe polish, honey-colored skin and piercing eyes took an exam that would determine whether she would receive one of five available jobs in the teaching market. She scored much lower than she anticipated, despite studying for months. She noticed that the highest score winners were all friends or family members of a powerful congressman in Honduras, or people who were politically connected with the education department. Elvia began asking questions and demanded for her exam to be rescored. “People told me not to go against him,” she said, her eyes full of defiance and patience. She thought the exam process was rigged. Hearing of her intentions, the Congressman visited Elvia’s house to warn her against meddling in the results. His threat didn’t stop her. “I kept going and appealed the decision.” She won her appeal and her corrected score placed her in second. “Fighting for myself made me want to fight for the rights of others,” she said cheerfully. Word of her success spread around the community, and soon she was asked to help advocate for others. That was her first encounter with the Congressman who later became an even more powerful national leader. But it wasn’t her last.

Elvia became a prominent community organizer and an activist for women, teachers, workers, and children in Honduras. Her work with anti-domestic violence advocates led to confrontations with abusers, who opposed advocacy efforts for the humane treatment of women. Through this work she crossed paths again with the Congressman and believed him to be involved in the detention, rape, and disappearance of a woman. She would tell him, “I know what you did,” when they saw each other in town. Soon after, she received threatening phone calls and she believes her house was purposely burned down by allies of the Congressman. “My repeated confrontations with the Congressman and others led to serious consequences such as threats against my life and lives of my loved ones, my father being kidnapped, and being detained unlawfully,” Elvia remarked.

Elvia knew she couldn’t stay in Honduras without risking her family’s safety. In 2000, she and her family fled to Austin, Texas where she and her husband found decent jobs. Moving to the U.S. was challenging, she said. “English was hard to learn. We worked like mules.” Elvia and her husband needed the money, not only to survive, but also to rebuild their house in Honduras. “I always hoped to return to Honduras,” Elvia said. “I fought hard to make Honduras a better and safer place for myself, for my children and for all future citizens and I always maintained the hope that I could resume that work.”

But returning to Honduras was not a possibility. The systematic corruption and violence in the country had only worsened.

After seeking help from friends, Elvia was put in touch with Greater Boston Legal Services, which connected her with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC). “Thank God for institutions like this clinic that restore the value of the people and their dignity. After meeting with community groups and now that I’m involved in the clinic, I feel valued as a human being.”

Elvia felt well represented by the students and the clinical staff. Reflecting on the experience, she exclaimed, “The clinic’s presentation was great!” It took two and a half years for her family’s asylum application to be approved. Elvia and her husband now beam with pride, elated to have U.S. citizenship status. “For me [and] my family, Harvard [Law School] is a blessing. This work is so important and powerful. I feel blessed. One day, one of my grandchildren will study at Harvard.”

Elvia and her family are happy with their life in the Greater Boston area, but she never forgets where she came from. “Even from the United States, I cannot sit by while the country deteriorates,” she stated. Elvia remains active in community-based organizations advocating on behalf of teachers and women. She even helped establish the new political party LIBRE (libterdad y refundacion – liberty and re-foundation) in Honduras. She is happy now that her family can live safely and she wishes the same could be true for others in Honduras. “You can’t choose where you were born, but you can choose where you live.”

*Name changed to protect the client’s confidentiality.

 

Despite fears of raids, community advocates say now is the time for immigrants to step into Massachusetts courts

Via MassLive

By: Steph Solis

Despite mounting fears of raids, community organizers are urging Massachusetts immigrants to take advantage of a federal judge’s order that blocks immigration agents from arresting people at local courthouses, a move aimed to increase cooperation between witnesses or victims of crimes and local law enforcement.

It’s been a month since a federal judge authorized a preliminary injunction blocking Immigration and Customs Enforcement from arresting people at Massachusetts courthouses — one of few such restrictions on ICE arrests in the country.

But Yessenia Alfaro, deputy director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said she gets calls from local immigrants saying they’re afraid to go to court alone.

“Even though the order has taken effect, we still need to inform more of our community,” said Alfaro, who still gets calls from locals saying they’re afraid to go to court.

Alfaro still accompanies people to local courthouses despite the protections offered by the preliminary injunction.

The announcements about raids in recent weeks only confused immigrant communities more, prompting families to avoid appointments and church services.

Alfaro and other volunteers at the Chelsea Collaborative knocked on doors Monday night to pass out copies of the judge’s order and explain what it means to residents.

“We are organizing and mobilizing to go knock on doors and go door-to-door to give out information about their rights and about this order, so they’re not afraid to call the police, file wage theft complaints or tenant complaints,” she said in a Spanish-language interview.

John Willshire Carrera, co-managing director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services, passed out copies of the preliminary injunction during a “Know Your Rights” workshop last week at the Chelsea Collaborative.

“I think it’s important for people to know what their rights are, especially at this moment when people are so under attack, whether it’s for real or whether it’s rhetoric,” Carrera said.

Continue reading.

HIRC Shares Resources for Immigrants Affected by ICE Raids

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

In anticipation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) plans to step up immigration enforcement beginning this weekend, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) has posted a series of resources for affected Massachusetts residents. This includes information about immigrants’ legal rights, as well as resources for finding an attorney.

“It’s important to remember that all people in the United States, regardless of immigration status, have certain basic rights,” said Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Director of HIRC and Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “These include the right to remain silent, the right not to speak to immigration officials or answer their questions, and the right not to open the door to your home unless immigration officers have a valid search warrant signed by a judge.”

Resources include:

HIRC, which has represented thousands of immigrants from all over the world since its founding over 35 years ago, serves as a resource for Massachusetts residents affected by any local immigration enforcement actions. HIRC engages students in removal defense, representation of individuals applying for asylum and other humanitarian protections, appellate litigation and policy advocacy, as well as in work on cutting edge issues at the intersection of immigration and criminal law.

HIRC will join other advocates tonight at the local Lights for Liberty vigil held by the cities of Cambridge and Somerville to protest immigrant detention facilities and human rights abuses being committed against children and families.

HIRC Calls on Inter-American Human Rights Commission to Investigate Mexico for Rights Violations at Border

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

Last week, the Clinic and five other groups filed a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, demanding that they investigate the Mexican government’s complicity in the illegal practice of “metering,” under which thousands of individuals seeking asylum in the United States are forced to wait for prolonged periods in limbo in Mexico. This practice stands in violation of various treaty obligations, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. The request was jointly filed with the Border Rights Project of Al Otro Lado, Alma Migrante, A. C., Programa de Asuntos Migratorios y Posgrado de Antropología de la Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México-Tijuana, and Families Belong Together Mexico.

Numerous organizations have documented the attacks on asylum seekers waiting at the border, to which Mexican authorities often turn a blind eye. The hearing request catalogs a host of rights violations along the U.S.-Mexico border, including:

  • a gay couple from Honduras in Nuevo Laredo who were kidnapped, beaten and threatened;
  • a 17-year-old Honduran boy who was attacked at knife point;
  • Guatemalan transgender women who were detained by police in Tijuana;
  • a woman from Honduras who was struck in the head and knocked unconscious; and,
  • A Salvadoran man who was deported from Piedras Negras by Mexican authorities without being informed of his right to seek asylum.

“The practice of metering entry into the United States has placed asylum seekers from Mexico at an increased risk of persecution, torture, or even death, as they wait in limbo at the border,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, Assistant Director at HIRC. “It also exposes asylum seekers from Central American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, to deportation by Mexico back to the countries they originally fled, often in fear for their lives.”

In the hearing request, HIRC and the five signatories urged the Commission to schedule site visits on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to monitor the treatment of asylum seekers and called on Mexico to adopt legislative and administrative changes to ensure due process and safeguard the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

HIRC client wins asylum after eight years

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic

Pictured left to right: Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey, Abraham, Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata, and Alicia Coneys, J.D. ’19

Abraham* began his journey at the Harvard Immigration Clinic (HIRC) in 2011, when he first met Managing Attorney Phil Torrey. Abraham had suffered severe persecution at the hands of the government in his home country in East Africa and came to HIRC to help him build his case for asylum.

Though Abraham had strong evidence of well-founded fear, his road to political asylum was not an easy one. “The process was incredibly long and included multiple asylum office interviews and many delayed hearings due to the government shutdown and the interpreter not showing up,” Torrey explained.

Abraham’s case was particularly heart-wrenching because while he fought to move his case forward in the United States, his wife and children remained thousands of miles away in his home country. He had not even met one of his sons, who was born after he came to the U.S.

Despite facing roadblocks, Abraham and his team from HIRC continued to push forward with his case. In the weeks leading up to his day in court, Abraham spent long hours at the HIRC office with Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata, who had taken over his case, and Alicia Coneys ‘19 preparing him for his day in court. Then, on April 30, 2019, all their hard work paid off when Abraham finally received the news he had waited so long to hear – he had been granted asylum.

“When he won, the first thought I had was of his family. I am so happy that he will finally be able to reunite with them in a place where they can all live safely,” said Coneys, who was in court with Abraham that day. Cases like Abraham’s remind us of the real-life impacts immigration has on families, both here in the U.S. and across the globe. Here at HIRC our goal is always to keep families together and we are so thrilled that Abraham will soon be with his family once again.

“Abraham is an incredible person. In spite of all the setbacks, he remained incredibly focused. His resilience, passion, and kind spirit are an inspiration. It’s been a true honor working with him,” said Zapata.

We would like to extend our thanks to Phil Torrey, Cindy Zapata, and Alicia Coneys for their tireless work on this case.

*Client’s name has been changed to respect his privacy

All in a Day’s Work

By: Alexis Farmer

The numerous clinics at Harvard Law School (HLS) are frequently successful in their pursuit of advancing justice. We often read of victories in court cases, positive reactions to dynamic presentations, and the formation of powerhouse partnerships, but how do the clinics get there? On any given day, HLS students, clinical instructors and clinical faculty are actively working on issues – preparing a brief, arguing a motion in court, giving a presentation to community leaders or clinical professionals, or collaborating with community partners on launching a policy initiative. On one particular day in early May, three clinics were in three different courts while others were fortifying partnerships on each of the coasts. The Office of Clinical Programs (OCP) got an inside scoop on what a day in a few of the clinics might look like, and they were just as busy as we suspected.

Tuesday, May 7th

Credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts
Source: Flickr

9:00am The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) heard oral argument in Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, a case about whether the public has a right of access to records from show-cause hearings in which the clerk magistrate, who presides over the hearing, finds probable cause, but decides not to issue a criminal complaint. The Boston Globe sued the heads of the trial courts last fall, arguing that public access to the records allows for transparency and accountability and is useful in determining whether there is an uneven application of justice in this part of the court system. The action came after The Globe reported that Massachusetts was the only state to have these proceedings out of the public eye and keep many of the documents confidential.

In amicus briefs, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) and Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) argued that the hearings provide privacy for subjects of criminal complaints prior to arraignment. The amici also expressed concern that opening records where no criminal complaint is issued could harm individuals’ ability to obtain housing or jobs. HLAB’s brief was written on behalf of Harvard Defenders, the only legal services organization in the state dedicated to pro bono representation of indigent defendants in criminal show cause hearings, and City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots community organization dedicated to fighting for racial, economic, social justice and gender equality. Executive Director of Harvard Defenders Dara Jackson-Garrett, who co-authored the brief, told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, “Those who take out applications for criminal complaints often do not want to see the accused go to jail. Instead, they may just want to have the person apologize or get treatment for substance abuse.” A decision in the case is expected sometime late summer/early fall.

9:30am The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) at GBLS co-managing directors and HLS lecturers on law Nancy Kelly and John Willshire Carrera, HIRC assistant director and clinical professor Sabi Ardalan, and HIRC teaching fellow Zack Albun attended oral arguments in De Pena-Paniagua v. Barr, currently pending at the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The court held the hearing at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston. Ms. De Pena-Paniagua is challenging a Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision that denied her asylum application by construing Matter of A-B-, a 2018 decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to categorically foreclose asylum to applicants who argue they have a well-founded fear of persecution in the form of domestic violence perpetrated on account of their membership in a “particular social group.” Along with co-counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and HIRC director Prof. Deborah Anker, the HIRC attorneys submitted an amicus brief arguing Ms. De Pena-Paniagua qualified for asylum as a victim of persecution on account of her membership in a particular social group defined by female gender. HIRC alumnus Eunice Lee (Albert M. Sacks Clinical Teaching & Advocacy Fellow 2009–11) appeared on behalf of fellow amicus the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, arguing that Matter of A-B- itself conflicts with the applicable federal statutes and international treaties and should be overturned.

The three-judge panel expressed significant interest in the position advanced in HIRC’s briefing, asking attorneys for both Ms. De Pena-Paniagua and the Department of Justice several questions about her eligibility for relief on the basis advocated. The First Circuit has yet to issue an opinion squarely addressing the legal sufficiency of defining a particular social group by gender.

10:00am Clinical Professor of Law Dehlia Umunna of the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) and CJI student Jillian Tancil J.D. ’19 spent the morning at Roxbury District Court representing a woman that allegedly violated a protection order. The case was scheduled for a jury trial, but was resolved with pre-trial probation.

10:30am HIRC Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata spoke on a panel about family detention at the AALS Clinical Conference in San Francisco, CA. The panel, entitled “Learning in Baby Jail: Lessons from Law Student Engagement in Immigration Detention Centers,” was a forum for reflection and learning best practices for preparing students to engage in work within family detention centers. The other panelists included Lindsay Harris, University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law; Erica B. Schommer, St. Mary’s University School of Law; Sara Sherman-Stokes, Boston University School of Law.

11:20am The Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic (EL&PC) submitted comments on behalf of a group of leading scientists on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Assessment Plan for methylmercury. Methylmercury is a common pollutant of air and water and highly toxic. The EL&PC’s comments provided recommendations, guidance, and support for the EPA’s reassessments and proposed studies.

Source: iStock

1:15pm The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation’s (CHLPI) Health Law & Policy Clinic held a strategic planning call with the Transgender Law Center, as part of an initiative against the rollback of anti-discrimination protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people. The partnership, formalized in the summer of 2018, has led to conversations among legal experts about how to address and challenge reinterpretations of the Affordable Care Act and other civil rights protections. On May 24th, the Trump Administration released proposed changes to gender identity protections in health programs and activities. You can find CHLPI’s on-going analysis of the law here.

2:30pm The Legal Services Center’s Safety Net Project (LSC) and HLAB are representing a client as she appeals the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) decision to deny her disability benefits – the first joint representation between the programs. Despite extensive evidence of her inability to continue working due to symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression stemming from abuse both in childhood and during her marriage, the client’s claims have been denied at each stage of the appeals process and are now before the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. On May 7th, the LSC-HLAB team filed the client’s response memorandum and asked that the case be set for oral argument. The arguments center around the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) decision, without explanation, to give lesser weight to important evidence from the doctors treating the client, his mischaracterization of the record, various conclusory determinations that render judicial review impossible, and a series of findings that should have been entrusted to experts. HLAB/LSC clinical instructors Stephanie Goldenhersh and Julie McCormack and students Jeremy Ravinsky, JD ’20 and Bryan Sohn, JD ’20 are working on the case. The team is looking forward to their day in court in the fall, when Jeremy and Bryan will present the client’s argument before Judge Casper.

The John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse in Boston, MA.  Source: iStock

All day Sarah Downer and Katie Garfield, from the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, attended the Root Cause Coalition’s Annual Hill Day in Washington, DC. They used the event as an opportunity to educate legislators from both parties about the implications of laws like the Anti-Kickback Statute – a criminal statute that prohibits transactions to induce or reward services or items reimbursed by federal health care programs. Downer and Garfield were also invited to meet with staff from several legislative offices to discuss pathways to integrating critical food and nutrition services into the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Securing coverage of these new benefits within our public insurance programs would expand access to life-saving nutrition for vulnerable individuals living with chronic illness.

HIRC wins case for Guatemalan family

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Nate MacKenzie and Nora Picasso Uvalle, LLM ’19 (far right) pictured with their clients

On May 9th, Temporary Clinical Instructor Nate MacKenzie and clinical students Nora Picasso Uvalle LLM ’19 and Carolina Perez Feuerstein arrived at the Boston Immigration Court with their client and her family. They had submitted a massive, 650 page file that detailed how Isabel* and her children had faced severe persecution at the hands of corrupt government officials in their home country of Guatemala, and they we were ready to defend their case in court. However, just as they were beginning the trial, the judge did something unusual.

“The judge basically told the trial attorney that it was an incredibly well-documented case and pushed her to concede,” MacKenzie explained.

It was a joyful moment not only for Isabel and her family, but also Picasso and Perez Feuerstein, who had spent the entire semester helping build Isabel’s case, from preparing affidavits to researching country conditions to locating expert witnesses. MacKenzie noted that this is a true example of how, as he put it, “the real work is in the paper.”

Still, the students faced challenges in the case. As part of their preparation for trial, Picasso and Perez Feuerstein had to interview each of the clients numerous times. Tiny details, such as whether to translate a word as “village” or “town,” can affect the trajectory of a case so Isabel’s legal team had to ensure that they knew every aspect of her story. However, in the beginning, Isabel and her children felt frustrated when the students and attorneys asked them repeatedly about the same stories and events. Sensing this tension, Isabel’s attorneys and students decided to try to describe their legal strategy in a new way.

Picasso explained, “We just sat down and told them ‘We need to ask you these questions over and over again because we need to write a book about your lives and, for that matter, we need every single detail.’” With this new concept in mind, Isabel began to open up to the students and, ultimately, this helped Isabel’s legal team win her case in court. Picasso smiled as she recalled that, as they were leaving the courthouse, Isabel’s son said that now he wanted to write a story about his family and their lives.

Every day, clients like Isabel are required to share intimate details of their lives in order to seek refuge in the United States. Those seeking asylum and Withholding of Removal must provide proof of future harm, which often means recounting some of the most traumatic moments they have ever experienced. Both attorneys and students alike were inspired by Isabel’s courage to speak her truth in order to provide a better life for herself and her family here in the U.S.

“I think that I will never forget how much Isabel and her kids have taught me. Especially their strength and resilience in facing difficulties. It is an example that I will always have in mind when going through hard times,” Perez Feuerstein said.

*Client’s name has been changed to respect her privacy

Reflections on Participation in HIRC

Via adMISSION: HLS

As I look back on my three years, my involvement with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) has without a doubt been one of the most rewarding parts of my law school career. As a first generation Mexican-American who was raised on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border, being an advocate for the immigrant community is something I have always been passionate about. Fortunately, at HLS there are many ways you can become involved in immigration advocacy.

I first became involved in this space my 1L year as an interpreter for HIRC and the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), a related student practice organization (SPO). First-year students cannot enroll in a clinic, but they can become active in SPOs to develop client advocacy skills. I regrettably did not apply to HIP because I was too worried about the demands of 1L year. However, serving as an interpreter for asylum hearing prep sessions still allowed me to make an impact without straining my schedule. I was overjoyed when the client I served as an interpreter for was ultimately granted asylum!

My 2L year I continued interpreting for HIRC and HIP. Enrollment in HIRC is lottery-based, not by application, so due to the large volume of interest I did not get a fall semester spot my 2L year. Nevertheless, I was still able to get involved in the clinic beyond serving as an interpreter. I asked the Assistant Director of HIRC, Sabi Ardalan ’02, if I could enroll in the clinic as an Independent Clinical student for our January Term (known as J-Term). To my delight, she was willing to accommodate me and I was able to have a very fulfilling three weeks. I prepared and submitted applications for asylum and other forms of immigration protection for three clients. I was also fortunate to be introduced to one client who I actually ended up working with towards almost the end of her asylum case.

My 3L year I secured a fall semester spot in the clinic and it ended up being the most rewarding learning experience in all of my three years. I worked on a few cases, but predominantly worked on the asylum case for the client I had met during J-Term. We met at least three times a week during the semester and as a result grew very close. I worked on submitting her filing in November and crafting her affidavit (her personal declaration). Because I grew very invested in her case and wanted to extend, Sabi once again allowed me to work in the clinic during J-Term so that I could represent her at the hearing. I was excited to see the case through every step of the way.

To our chagrin, the government shutdown prevented our client’s hearing from happening. It will probably be rescheduled after I graduate, given the backlog that currently exists in immigration court. Throughout the semester, we were repeatedly reminded that this is a realm of the law that is continuously challenged. At least once a week a new proclamation would come out from the Executive Branch that threatened the chances and well being of our clients. However, the lawyers at HIRC are up for the challenge and their relentless advocacy inspired and taught us the same. We learned how to be creative in our arguments in order to fight despite working in a field where the law is not in our favor.

I learned so much during my time at HIRC and was able to immediately apply that knowledge when I volunteered in Tijuana with Al Otro Lado during Christmas break. It felt rewarding to go back to my home—now at the heart of our current immigration debate—and advocate for the asylum seekers.

As I finally step into the world of an actual lawyer this summer, I will forever carry with me the lessons I learned at HIRC.

 

Asseret Frausto is a 3L from the Tijuana-San Diego border. She graduated from UCLA in 2015. Prior to law school, she worked at a tech company (Oracle) in Silicon Valley. She spent her 1L summer as a 1L Diversity Fellow at White & Case in Los Angeles and at Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park. She spent her 2L summer at O’Melveny in Los Angeles and in D.C. At HLS, she is the Co-President of La Alianza, a student attorney with the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), a board member of HL Central, and a member of the Women’s Law Association (WLA). In her spare time she likes listening to podcasts, watching Friends reruns, and eating delicious Latin food. 

Family with Local Ties Seeking Asylum Still in Limbo

Via Sentiel Source

Source: Sentinel Source

Almost five months after a migrant mother and son with ties to Keene arrived in New England, their future in the United States is still up in the air.

Honduran citizens Jessica Baca Garcia and her teenage son, Mario Jafet Cerrito Baca, sought asylum in the United States after crossing the border in May. They had been detained in separate centers in Texas until July. The two were reunited at the end of that month and have since been living with family members in New Bedford, Mass.

Much has changed since then, said their relative Jessica Garcia, who works at The Sentinel. Mario, who goes by Jafet, is attending public school. His English has improved in leaps and bounds, Garcia said. In October, he celebrated his 13th birthday alongside his cousins.

Baca Garcia can’t legally work, so she stays at home, helping her sister cook and clean and watching her toddler niece, Tiaani. Baca Garcia’s new life in New Bedford is safer than her life in Honduras, she told her family members. Still, the anxiety of having been separated from her son lingers, Garcia said.

“Jessica has not left the house at all,” she said. “She’s very nervous all the time, not so much at home but she was afraid to leave the house.”

Baca Garcia sought asylum status for her and Jafet because of “horrific violence” in their native country, including abuse from her boyfriend, who has gang ties, Jessica Garcia said in July. She’s afraid she will be killed if returned to Honduras.

Jafet was one of an estimated 3,000 children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

During their separation in Texas, Baca Garcia went before an immigration judge and her asylum application was denied. For a while, it seemed as though mother and son were destined to get deported.

Around that time, lawyers Nancy Kelly and John Willshire of Boston-based Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services started representing mother and son for free. Willshire said Jafet’s case is proceeding through the immigration system, but that he and Kelly are waiting to hear if Baca Garcia’s case will be re-opened.

In recent months, he said, there have been some favorable developments in the immigration court system that would perhaps allow Baca Garcia’s case to be re-heard. A settlement agreement will allow some parents who were separated from their children at the border to have their cases re-heard.

“This family has gone through an awful lot and it was really an impossible situation for them to be detained,” Willshire said. “And after they got here, they were both really traumatized.”

Willshire said he does not know how long the proceedings will take, or their possible outcomes. But he said both Baca Garcia and her son will continue these proceedings at the immigration court in Boston.

The mother and son’s plight attracted much public attention: A Change.org petition attracted nearly 290,000 signatures, and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., intervened on the pair’s behalf. Also, a crowdfunding campaign for Baca Garcia and her son raised about $2,200.

Jessica Garcia said mother and son are using the funds for their living expenses and to pay for trips to meet their lawyers.

In the meantime, the family vacillates between anxiety and hope. Garcia said the wait has put a strain on the family.

“If they have to pick them up and bring them home I would just be completely devastated,” Garcia said, adding that if Baca Garcia can’t stay in the United States, her son will go with her to Honduras.

At times, Jessica Garcia allows herself to cautiously dream about the future. Perhaps, down the line, the family will start a Honduran food restaurant in the Boston area, and Baca Garcia could work there. Maybe she and Jafet would have enough money to live in an apartment of their own.

But it all hinges on the asylum proceedings, Garcia knows.

Willshire, for his part, is optimistic about Baca Garcia and Jafet’s chances.

“This family is a very particularly special family in the sense that they really suffered incredibly and we’re trying to help them,” he said.

The Republican Proposal to Change the U.S. Asylum System, Explained

Via PolitiFact  

Source: Flickr, Credit: Leigh Ann Johnson

By: Miriam Valdere

A proposal from Senate Republicans to end the partial government shutdown includes not only the $5.7 billion President Donald Trump seeks for a border barrier with Mexico, but also landmark changes to the U.S. asylum system.

It’s uncertain if the proposal — in its current form — would pass the Senate or get approval from the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic leaders in Congress have already come out against the proposal.

The changes are enumerated in an appropriations package released by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala. PolitiFact examinedthe overall provisions in the Republican proposal and in a Democratic measure, both scheduled for a Senate vote Jan. 24.

Here’s what the proposal entails and how it would impact future asylum seekers.

What are the major changes Republicans propose for the asylum system?

Under current law, immigrants cannot apply for asylum outside the United States. They must apply for the protection once they are in the United States and can do so whether they arrived here legally or illegally.

The proposal says that children under 18 years old from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who want to apply for asylum will have to apply outside of the United States at designated application processing centers in Central America.

Children seeking asylum must also meet other criteria, including having a qualified parent or guardian in the United States who can take them into their custody.

They can’t have an outstanding deportation order nor have been previously deported or denied asylum. They also can’t be a public safety or national security risk.

The bill also says that a child can be referred for asylum by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a nongovernmental organization designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Does the proposal set quotas on asylum applications?

Yes. No more than 50,000 application referrals per fiscal year, and no more than 15,000 asylum grants per fiscal year.

Currently, there are no quotas on asylum applications or approvals per year.

(Separately, there are annual caps on refugee admissions. Refugees apply for admission from outside the United States; asylum seekers apply for the immigration protection once they are in the United States.)

Where would the designated application processing centers be located?

At least one center would be established in each of the following countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. They would be established within 240 days of the proposal’s enactment.

If the Department of Homeland Security does not approve an asylum application, can it be reviewed by an immigration judge?

No. The proposal said no court or immigration judge shall have jurisdiction to review a DHS determination.

Under current procedures, immigrants apprehended at the border and found to have credible fear of torture or persecution in their home countries present their case in a defensive asylum process before an immigration judge.

Is this proposal likely to decrease the flow of migrants at the border, particularly unaccompanied minors and family units?

No, said most experts who responded to a PolitiFact query.

If the proposal became law, it would have little deterrence effect and there would likely be a court challenge, increasing confusion over it, said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California-Irvine who studies immigration.

“More importantly, many of the migrants are fleeing dire and dangerous circumstances,” DeSipio said. “They are not able to wait in their countries of origin while their applications are being reviewed.”

On the other hand, the proposal could deter immigration because it would provide a process by which individuals apply for asylum without having to undertake the journey to the United States, said Andrew “Art” Arthur, a resident fellow in Law and Policy for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank favoring low immigration.

Would the proposal help reduce the immigration courts backlog?

There are around 800,000 cases pending in immigration courts (not all are asylum cases). That backlog is so extensive that it would take a long time to see the effects of the proposal, if it became law, DeSipio said.

“Over time, this proposal could reduce some of the backlog; if the review in the countries of origin and referrals are legitimate, some migrants will be able to be processed in this way,” DeSipio said.

Arthur also said the proposal would diminish the backlog in the long run because it would decrease the number of new cases. It would also deter fraudulent asylum claims, he said.

Would the proposal conflict with international law that allows migrants to apply for asylum at U.S. borders?

Most experts told us that if this proposal became law or was implemented through executive order, it likely would be challenged in court.

International law says that a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention/Protocol (Article 33) cannot return a refugee to a country where he or she faces persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, said Deborah Anker, a clinical professor of law, founder and director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School.

“If the United States turns away people at the border, or from within the United States, it is violating the Convention/Protocol,” Anker said.

Recent Case Victories From HIRC at GBLS

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Since the beginning, HIRC has partnered with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), the largest provider of free legal services in Massachusetts. GBLS is also the site of the HIRC at GBLS side of the Clinic. Here are just a few of the many victories won by HIRC at GBLS over the past year:

HIRC at GBLS won asylum grants for:

  • An indigenous woman and mother of six from Guatemala who suffered severe domestic violence for 25 years at the hands of her husband. Supervisor: Maggie Morgan. Clinical students: Katrina Black ’19 and Brooke Adams ’20.
  • A Salvadoran mother and daughter who suffered severe domestic violence and gang based threats. Supervisor: John Willshire Carrera. Clinical students: Evelyn Zheng ’18, Brianna Rennix ’18 and other clinical students.
  • A young Haitian political activist who was targeted for violence by political opponents for her attempts to expose electoral corruption and advocate for women’s rights. Supervisor: Maggie Morgan. Clinical student: Elisabeth Mabus ’19.
  • A detained indigenous client from Ecuador who suffered past persecution on account of his race and for being a member of an evangelical family. Supervisor: John Willshire Carrera.
  • Two teenage sisters from El Salvador who were targeted by gangs and persecuted because of their religious beliefs. Supervisor: Nancy Kelly. Clinical students: Mathew Scarvie ’18 and Natalie Ritchie ’19.

HIRC at GBLS won grants of withholding of removal for:

  • A detained Honduran man who was a semi-professional soccer player of Garifuna (Afro-Caribbean) ethnicity who suffered racial persecution in Honduras. Supervisors: Maggie Morgan and Nancy Kelly. Clinical student: Abhinaya Swaminathan ’18.
  • A detained indigenous client from Guatemala who suffered past persecution during the Guatemalan Civil war. Supervisor: John Willshire Carrera. Clinical students: Kolja Ortmann ’19 and Maya Ragsdale ’18.
  • A detained Guatemalan whose family was targeted for their work with a human rights group. Supervisor: Nancy Kelly. Clinical student: Alex McGriff ’20.

Thank you to the attorneys and students for all their hard work on behalf of our clients!

HIRC & HIP Submit Comments on Proposed Removal of Fee Waiver

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

On November 27, HIRC and the HLS Immigration Project (HIP) submitted comments on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ proposed change to the I-912 Form to remove the means-tested benefit as an eligibility option. Not only will this proposed change create superfluous work for USCIS, but it will also contribute to the many hardships facing asylees. In the comments, HIRC and HIP note: “In our experience the income-based fee waiver greatly increases the processing time of the application, forcing asylees to needlessly wait longer for their green cards. Many asylees have already waited years for their asylum applications to be adjudicated. Thus, the Proposed Change places an undue burden on asylees, who are both exceptionally vulnerable and deserving of fair and efficient adjudication of their applications.”

You can read complete comments from HIRC and HIP here.

We would like to thank HIRC clinical student Alicia Coneys ’19 for her help with these comments.

Trump Is Rewriting Asylum Law

Via The Atlantic 

Source: Pixabay

By: Sabrineth Ardalan

Two days after yet another mass shooting, President Donald Trump on Friday issued a proclamation addressing mass migration. “The continuing and threatening mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border,” he wrote, “has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders. I therefore must take immediate action to protect the national interest.”

The mass shooting, like most mass shootings, was committed by an American citizen, a white male. There’s not much detailed information about who is part of the so-called caravan on the way to the southern border. But it seems the migrants hail mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where femicide rates are the highest in the world and government protection is nonexistent. Chances are, they resemble my clients at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. People like Maria, who was kidnapped by her abuser, an auxiliary for the Honduran authorities, at a young age and subjected to years of rape. And like Jennifer, who was forced to flee El Salvador after gang members threatened to kill her and her family because they had encouraged youths to join the Evangelical Church instead of the gangs. (I’ve used pseudonyms to protect my clients’ anonymity.)

Our clients sit in our office for hours at a time and share horrific stories of the violence they suffered in their home countries, and of the children, parents, and siblings they were forced to leave behind. Despite everything they have lived through, they bring tremendous warmth and generosity. They also bring their tremendous faith in America, a country that they believe can and should offer them protection.

Trump’s proclamation and new interim regulations fly in the face of that belief. The administration plans to restrict asylum only to those who present themselves at ports of entry; people entering the country via the southern border in any other way would be limited to much more circumscribed forms of relief that would not include reuniting with their family members, obtaining a green card, or a path to citizenship. The administration also plans to enter into an agreement with Mexico to force asylum seekers traveling through that country to claim protection there instead of in the United States.

At first blush, these rules may not seem extreme. But the “ports of entry” restriction ignores the fact that Customs and Border Protection routinely turns away people even after they have asked to apply for asylum. As one woman told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “I told [the CBP official] that I wasn’t from here, that I was from Honduras, and that I wanted asylum. He told me that there was no longer asylum for Hondurans … I started to explain why I couldn’t return and what I was fleeing from, but he interrupted me and said that everyone comes with the same story, that he couldn’t help me.”

Continue reading.

Heartbreak at the Border: Cindy Zapata on Her Trip to Karnes Detention Center

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee  Clinical Program

By: Cindy Zapata

There are some memories that remain so vivid in my mind. Some of them are obvious ones, like the day I got married and the day my son was born. Others are not so obvious, like the time my mother made me pay for a 5 dollar chicken shawarma in dimes and nickels. She laughed hysterically from afar as I ashamedly walked over and paid the man in countless coins. She insisted that it was a life lesson on the value of money – money is money, whether it comes in the form of a bill or a coin.

Often these memories evoke the emotion I felt in that very moment – joy, happiness, embarrassment – but there are some memories that not only evoke the emotion, but, in a way, transport me to the very moment of the experience. An example? Volunteering at the Karnes Family Detention Center.

During the four day stretch we were there, we met with countless fathers and sons. We helped represent some for their credible fear interviews or drafted affidavits. For others, we represented them for their reasonable fear redetermination appeal before an immigration judge. In three days, we had more than ten hearings.

Each had a very unique story, but they all shared a similar sentiment: they were scared of returning to their home country. Each had suffered or witnessed unimaginable horrors – sexual violence, physical assault, and death.

In my work, I’ve visited various different prisons and detention centers. As one can imagine, it’s a challenging experience. They’re physically and emotionally cold, and you can almost feel the desperation and lack of liberty in the very air you breathe.

But Karnes. Seeing fathers and children in detention. Seeing a three-year-boy in detention. It’s an image I can’t get rid of.

There were so many moments in our time there where I saw the law simply not protect the people that it was intended to protect. I saw the law fail miserably in upholding due process and basic fundamental rights. Individuals with valid asylum claims were not even allowed to explain their fear and experiences in court or they were denied interpreters or legal representation despite their affirmative requests. One father told me he had been separated from his five-year-old son – he was simply taken away. During that time of separation, he received his credible fear interview (CFI). I read his CFI and it was clear that this heartbroken man was incapable of understanding the questions before him. The only questions he asked over, and over, and over again were – Do you know where my son is? When will he come back? Can you help me find my son? Questions the asylum officer could not answer.

By the time I met this father, I was helping him finalize his affidavit to request a new interview before the asylum office. He was closing in on approximately three months in detention. He was tired and desperate. Despite having an extremely strong political asylum claim, he just couldn’t handle the thought of him and his son being in detention even a week longer. He was close to giving up.

My return home from Karnes was difficult. I’d see my son playing and I’d be immediately overwhelmed with guilt, knowing that I’d never have to make the impossible decisions these parents have made. I couldn’t shake the thought that at any given moment this father and his son, and countless other parents and children, are in detention.

Whenever I see kids coloring, I sometimes find myself back at Karnes. The kids weren’t allowed to color.

Whenever I see an image or a drawing of a dove, I sometimes find myself back at Karnes. An indigenous boy I met with had drawn a dove on his school folder. He was very talented.

I find that individuals in detention often draw doves.

A symbol of hope for a new beginning.

Cindy Zapata is a Clinical Instructor at HIRC and supervises the HLS Immigration Project (HIP).

Crimmigration Clinic Submits Amicus Brief on Behalf of Immigration Law Scholars

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

HIRC’s Crimmigration Clinic, directed by Philip Torrey, recently co-authored an amicus curiae brief with Professor Kari E. Hong of Boston College Law School on behalf of immigration law scholars. The brief was filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a petition asking the full court to reconsider its prior decision in a case that significantly expanded a specific crime-based deportation ground.

The amicus brief argues for a narrow interpretation of the “crime of child abuse” removal ground that is more in line with the ground’s purpose to target child predators for removal. In doing so, the brief illustrates the over-inclusive nature of the removal ground’s current interpretation by immigration authorities, which may sweep in relatively minor conduct, including “free-range” parenting and child endangerment statutes that Congress did not intend to result in the deportation. To be clear, child abuse has no place in our society, but the current broad interpretation of the statute may render the parent who allows an older child to walk a half-mile home from a park a child abuser and, therefore, subject to deportation and permanent separation from her family. The brief argues that Congress did not intend to target that type of conduct.

The full brief is available here.

HIRC Submits Comments on Proposed Expansion of Family Detention

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

On November 6, HIRC, along with the HLS Immigration Project (HIP) and the Immigration Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), submitted comments on the Trump administration’s proposal to end the Flores v. Reno settlement, which requires that the government release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to their parents or other adults. The Flores agreement has been in place since 1997.

In their comments, HIRC and GBLS staff and HIP students used client stories to highlight the flawed logic in the Trump administration’s proposal:

“Last year, we represented a 21-year-old Salvadoran woman who, when fleeing abuse in El Salvador at age 17, was held for three days at gunpoint by gang members of Los Zetas in Mexico. Like the young Salvadoran, many of our clients often do not have the luxury of making a choice about whether to leave their home countries. Life-threatening violence related to powerful gangs and abusive security forces is a major problem throughout much of the Northern Triangle. This violence has pushed growing numbers of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to seek asylum. Furthermore, Central American women, children, and families often have no option but to flee the ongoing threat of gang or gender-related violence experienced back at home. New regulations will not deter these individuals who are trying to save their lives and the lives of their children.”

They also emphasized the dire effects of the indefinite detention of children, citing studies that show long-term mental and physical harm suffered by detained children.

The complete comments from HIRC, HIP and GBLS are available here.

Special thanks to Krista Oehlke ’20 for her work on this letter!

Student Reflections From the Border

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

In August, HLS students Alessandra De La Tejera ’20, Josephine Herman ’20, Evan Hindman ’19, and Andrew Patterson ’20, and HIRC attorneys Sabi Ardalan and Cindy Zapata spent a week in Texas volunteering with RAICES, an organization that offers free and low-cost immigration legal services in Central and South Texas. They worked at the Karnes Detention Center, where they met with fathers and sons who had been forcibly separated from each other under President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. Three students have offered their thoughts on this powerful and eye-opening experience.

Alessandra De La Tejera ‘20:

Judges have the discretion to hear the cases before them with cynicism or with humanity and empathy. People often disagree about which should be applied when victim’s advocacy organizations disparage progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner when he reduces standards for the lengths of sentences and probationary periods, or comparable organizations are outraged when a college rapist is let off with a slap on the wrist, quite transparently because of his status and race. Asylum, however, is one area of the law that is, by definition, humanitarian. Naturally, then, I would expect the treatment of asylum-seekers to be humanitarian. It is not.

I stood next to Alberto*, a client I represented in a hearing to review his credible fear finding, and watched helpless as the Judge essentially cross-examined my client over every tiny discrepancy or omission in his Credible Fear Interview (CFI). Alberto told the Judge about his issues with the interpreter, who was switched halfway through the interview, and who continuously interrupted and talked over him. He told the Judge about how he cannot read or write and his difficulty understanding the questions. He told the Judge about how his son was brought in toward the end of the interview, distracting him before he could mention his fear over working for a political party.

In response, the Judge rattled off the boilerplate questions, barely giving Alberto a chance to nod between each question:

“You were asked, ‘Did you understand my questions today?’ and you said yes.”

“You were also read a summary of your claim, and they asked if it was correct, and you said yes.”

“You were asked if there were any changes you wanted to make, or if you wanted to add anything, and you said no.”

“You were asked if there was anything else that was important to your claim that you hadn’t discussed, and you said no.”

He then found Alberto not credible, and affirmed his negative credible fear finding.

Considering the context Alberto was in, it’s understandable that he was unable to truly comprehending the significance of those questions. Still, in this preliminary review, for which he only needed to provide some evidence that he could prevail on an asylum claim if it were adjudicated, none of that reasonable compassion was extended to him.

The asylum system is failing in its core purpose of humanitarianism. Direct representation is critical because these individuals want and deserve an advocate, or at the very least a companion to walk them through this process. Still, that company is only so helpful, and it does not compensate for the fact that even with representation, many lose. Policy work is then critical because the laws and their application need to change in order for representation to become effective. Policy work can only do so much, however, when the laws as they stand do nothing to prevent judges and other immigration officials from using their discretion to reject statutorily valid asylum claims. Representation of compassionate perspectives in the judiciary is then critical, so that those with discretionary power wield it with empathy. In short, as I left the Karnes Detention Center, my somber takeaway was that there is a lot of work to do, and everywhere.

*Client’s name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.

Josephine Herman ‘20:

Karnes is a family detention center, which means that it houses adults and their minor children during the early stages of the asylum process during which credible fear interviews (CFIs) are conducted. Although there are toys in the visitation area and colorful posters on the walls, it is impossible to ignore that Karnes was built as a prison for adults. Clients are called in groups to meet with lawyers, legal assistants, and volunteers about their cases. Although the staff try to use the private rooms to discuss clients’ personal cases, often they are full and so a client and a volunteer sit in the crowded, loud visitation room to discuss the clients’ asylum claim—which usually means hearing about the worst experiences of their lives.

“Part one: the harm you have suffered.” Clients discuss sexual and domestic violence, beatings, shootings, stabbings, extortion, threats to their lives, threats to their children’s lives, threats to kill their whole families. They talk about men in loose clothing and tattoos (a sign of gangs) who lurk outside of their homes. For the sake of time and the law, I move quickly past the persecution element. This is not usually where people have trouble in their cases—the vast majority show horrific harm and threats.

“Part two: the motive of the harm.” This is where most claims fail, but often a client does have a way to meet the motive, or nexus, element—it’s just that it is unclear to the adjudicator. I ask about their religion and whether they go to church. I ask what the person who raped them said while he did it. I ask them about whether there is something different about them, or about their family, that people don’t like.

“Part three: why the police or government can’t or won’t help you.” Sometimes, this question is met with incredulity. Of course, the police won’t help in countries where they are in league with the gangs, or against a certain political party, or abusers themselves. It can be challenging to ask a client to explain something that is just a fact of life in his or her home country. Often, when I ask them how they know that the police won’t help, the answer is simple, “everyone knows.”

“Part four: why isn’t it safe in your home country? Why can’t you hide?” The gangs have contacts all over. My abuser is a powerful man. The government is against my party. I don’t know anyone else. The city is even more dangerous. I was a farmer, I don’t have a way to work that’s not my land. I tried to move and they found me. They even found me in another country.

Although each story is unique, and has its own tragic and horrifying details, the days are long and they start to blend together. RAICES staff arrive at 10 a.m. and leave when the visitation room closes at 8 p.m. Then, there is the long drive back to San Antonio and preparations for the next day. Volunteers help them to work more efficiently on complex cases and on getting through the dozens of people that might pass through visitation daily. The days are both repetitive and unpredictable. This summer, with the family separations, staff dealt with unexpected transfers and retaliations by ICE against protesting fathers.

They are still there, still doing the work, day in and day out.

Andrew Patterson ‘20:

Over the course of three days volunteering at the Karnes Detention Center in Texas, we watched the soul drain from an immigration judge’s body. We had all heard the stories of judges in these proceedings haranguing asylum-seekers, silencing advocates, and summarily denying claims. We would learn that those stories told of a system whose injustices run too deep for any one government official to escape with their humanity fully intact.

During the first day of hearings to review negative credible fear findings, the judge was reasonable, and while he mostly denied relief, he was at least pretending to apply the law correctly and was treating both advocates and their clients with dignity and respect. He respectfully and thoroughly detailed his disagreement with the lawyers’ arguments and explained his decisions.

By the second day, we observed a shift. He was moving through hearings more quickly. His mood had darkened and, in his impatient declarations that the lawyers were only present and speaking “at his discretion,” we began to see the process wearing him down. He was misstating the legal standards, mixing up the higher bar for those who had already been previously deported from United States with the lower one for those who had just entered for the first time. The interpreter also began making serious mistakes – she repeatedly mistranslated things in ways that were actually prejudicial to one of my clients and made it seem as though he was a criminal, and my deferential protests seemed to infuriate both interpreter and judge. By this time, he must have sat through more than a dozen hearings, each lasting about 45 minutes, listening to horrific stories of violence in Central America. He had repeated this process all day, for at least two days straight, for at least eight hours each day. At least the lawyers, sleep-deprived and harried as we were, did not have to shoulder the weight of making decisions about people’s horrifying circumstances for hours and days on end.

On day three, the judge was exhausted and irritable and had abandoned all pretense of justice. My client, mentioned above, who had the most obviously defective credible fear interview that I encountered that week, compellingly recounted his story of horrific persecution on account of his race only for the judge to declare, inexplicably, that he had not testified that he was persecuted on account of his race. Later that day, one of my colleagues was actually shut out of the courtroom as she tried to protest the fact that her client was being forced to go forward without an interpreter who spoke her client’s native language. The transformation from two days prior stunned all of us.

It is unfair to everyone to require judges to make these life-and-death decisions under these conditions. I doubt whether anyone can maintain their humanity when called upon to preside over this procession of human misery for days at a time, with no respite, trying to perform the delicate task of questioning human beings about the worst experiences of their lives in order to make a judgment about whether those experiences satisfy the strictures of the asylum statute. It was sobering to witness the human costs of forcing immigration judges to adjudicate “what amount to death penalty cases… in traffic court settings.” Unfortunately, the government actors near our southern border are more interested in the efficient denial of claims than weighing them justly.

Please note that these entries have been edited for brevity.

HIRC & IDP Release “Particularly Serious Crime” Bars Report and Chart

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

On September 20, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program’s Crimmigration Clinic and the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) issued two new resources for advocates and attorneys defending the rights of immigrant fighting removal to countries where they will be persecuted:

Phil Torrey, HIRC Managing Attorney and supervisor of the Crimmigration Clinic, helped create these resources, along with HLS law students Clarissa Lehne and Colin Poirot.

Survived to Tell the Story

Via The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program 

By: Mutasim Ali

Mutasim Ali

This post was written by Mutasim Ali, a summer intern at HIRC. Mutasim is a law graduate of the College of Law and Business – Ramat Gan, Israel.

“As our forefathers were in the distant past foreign workers in countries, not theirs, and in the recent past were knocking on the gates of various countries fleeing the Nazi enemy, and were rejected – we are required to apply the relevant legal rules with compassion and sensitivity to all involved ‘victims of persecution’. This is necessary because we are a Jewish and democratic state.” Meltzer, Israeli Supreme Court Justice.

Every immigrant has a unique story. Some of us are privileged and are able to choose when and where to go searching for a better life, while others who are less privileged are forced to escape involuntarily to survive.  I am one of those who escaped genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur and I survived to tell the story of those who didn’t survive.

When I was forced to leave my home in Darfur in 2003, I didn’t know where was I going and I didn’t know where I would end up. All I knew was that I needed to run as fast as I could to a safe place so that I could survive to tell the story. My home was destroyed by the Sudanese government and its militia called Janjaweed. They murdered tens of people in my village and displaced hundreds of others, among them my family who still live in a displaced persons camp to this day. I recall the atrocities and the extermination of our people, the African ethnic groups in Darfur, for no reason but for their African racial identity. The government of Sudan committed systematic acts of murder which were recently defined as a genocide by the former US State Secretary Colin Powell. I have told my story hundreds of times and every time I feel more pain as I recall the stories of the past, the trauma, and, most of all, I think about those left behind.

More than 300,000 people were murdered, over two and a half million are displaced within Sudan, and tens of thousands of others are in exile. As a refugee, I escaped not only for personal safety, but also to tell my story time and again and to be a voice for those still in the darkness of tyranny and under persecution. I believe in the power of words and as much as telling this story is painful, it is the only way to make the voices of the victims heard and to involve other people in this just struggle. I was raised by community organizing parents. I learned to care for others and I always felt the obligation and the commitment to act. In Sudan, I was imprisoned several times as a result of my advocacy – I didn’t quit because as Albert Einstein said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those watching them without doing anything.”

It has been almost nine years since I left my home country and now I live in Israel as the only recognized refugee from Sudan. I didn’t expect an easy life, but I did expect compassion and sensitivity and indeed I expected to find a safe haven. In some instances, I feel I don’t belong to Sudan anymore. It is a country of 1,886,068 km sq. that doesn’t have a place for many others like me. I am no longer with my family. I lost my social status, networks, and even habits. Now, I live in Israel the small country of approximately 20,770 km sq. where I find myself without a history and without representation. You hear people label refugees as a threat to society. Some say: “So what if they fled persecution? Why should ‘we’ as a society care? They should look for a shelter somewhere else.” People spew hatred and propaganda, blaming immigrants for almost every problem. They apply offensive policies to dehumanize immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. It is so painful when you have to tell your story to prove you are in need of protection and instead of confronting your story with compassion and sensitivity, you are told go back to your home. This is not where you belong, you are an illegal infiltrator, you are told. The terms illegal and infiltrator come with so many connotations, all of which are negative.

Listening to those voices is discouraging because the negative voices are empowered by politicians and have the necessary resources to spread their hatred and propaganda. They base their arguments on false information and it is difficult if not impossible to have a constructive and reasonable debate.

I have tried to use these negative experiences as motivation to succeed. I completed my law degree and currently I am interning at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, where we are helping asylum seekers with stories similar to mine. To help someone fleeing MS-13 or Barrio 18 in El Salvador is not just about responding to a story of a stranger, it is also about my story fleeing the brutal and vicious acts of Janjaweed in Sudan. It is personal to me. Listening to asylum seekers is not enough to understand their full stories. Our stories are much more than what is told. To understand our plight, one must experience it and I don’t wish that on anyone. All I wish is for everyone, whether they agree or disagree with welcoming immigrants, to consider the fear and pain asylum seekers and refugees are living in.

I am privileged to be part of this organization and most of all to be mentored by the amazing people who are committed to making our world a better place. For us at the Clinic, it is not just about legal services but also about creating a space for immigrants to feel that they belong and that they are welcome in this community, and where their story can be told and heard.

IHRC Clinic Releases Joint Briefing Papers on Refugee Freedom of Movement and Business Documentation in Kakuma, Kenya

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

By: Anna Crowe

The International Human Rights Clinic and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Kenya released two briefing papers on September 13 highlighting the importance of freedom of movement and business documentation for refugees living in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp and the associated Kalobeyei settlement. Kakuma and Kalobeyei are home to close to 186,000 refugees, and Kakuma camp itself is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

Under Kenyan law, all refugees are required to live in and remain within designated refugee camps – to leave a camp without permission is a criminal offence. “Supporting Kakuma’s Refugees: The Importance of Freedom of Movement” explores the ways in which movement restrictions affect the lives and livelihoods of Kakuma’s refugees and limit their opportunities to participate in the local economy and Kenyan society. It seeks to encourage local and national actors to consider alternatives to Kenya’s current encampment policy and rethink existing practices around the temporary movement regime in place in the camps, which refugees described as opaque, arbitrary, and unpredictable.

Formal work and employment opportunities are largely inaccessible to Kakuma’s refugees, and most rely on humanitarian assistance as their primary form of support. Nonetheless, Kakuma has a thriving informal economy and a sizeable number of refugees run informal businesses there, providing goods and services to other refugees, as well as the local community. “Supporting Kakuma’s Refugee Traders: The Importance of Business Documentation in an Informal Economy” focuses on refugees running businesses in the camp and their experiences obtaining mandatory local government-issued business permits. It aims to contribute to ongoing discussions on how to ensure that business permit practices help refugees to safely run businesses and support refugees to exercise their right to work.

The briefing papers are part of a longer-term collaboration with NRC, which in 2017 included examining the documentation challenges refugees living in Nairobi face. Clinic students Haroula Gkotsi JD’19, Niku Jafarnia JD’19, Alexandra Jumper JD‘18, Daniel Levine-Spound JD’19, Julius Mitchell JD’19, and Sara Oh JD’19 worked on the briefing papers, including through desk research and fieldwork.

HIRC files amicus brief on latest travel ban

Via the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program

On March 30th, HIRC filed an amicus brief challenging President Trump’s latest immigration order. The brief argues that the travel ban violates federal immigration statutes and that this latest version, like its predecessors, is not based on any exigent situation involving diplomacy or military affairs. It replaces individualized determinations of risk with blanket prohibitions and thus reinstates a discriminatory system that Congress eliminated in 1965.

Dozens of immigration scholars from across the country signed on to the amicus brief, which was written in collaboration with Fatma Marouf (HLS ’02).

Read the brief here.

Crimmigration Clinic Wins Case at the Board of Immigration Appeals

Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Working under the direction of HIRC’s Managing Attorney Phil Torrey, Crimmigration Clinic students Clarissa Lehne ’18 and Mike Ewart ’18 successfully argued before the Board of Immigration Appeals that their client’s conviction should not result in his detention and deportation.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see a tangible result of the work that we put in at the clinic,” said Lehne.  Echoing her sentiment, Ewart further noted that “so much of law school is theoretical, the opportunity to apply the knowledge we learned in Phil’s Crimmigration class to an actual case was invaluable—and easier said than done.”

The client is a longtime lawful permanent resident who was convicted under a statute that criminalizes a broad range of conduct, including relatively minor conduct.  The Department of Homeland Security argued on appeal at the Board that the immigration judge’s initial determination that the conviction did not trigger removal was wrong.  The Crimmigration Clinic’s response brief demonstrated why the conviction did not categorically match a ground of removal in the immigration statute.

“For me this case underscores the importance of access to counsel in the immigration context (where there is no equivalent to the public defender system). Here, our client had a winning argument, but it was one that would have been extremely difficult to make without legal training and the resources we had at our disposal,” noted Ewart.

After the Board terminated the client’s removal proceedings he was released from immigration detention so that he could be reunited with his family.

Cravath Fellows pursue law projects around the world

Via Harvard Law Today

During Winter Term, students traveled to nine countries to do clinical work and research

Headshot of student

Credit: Lorin Granger

Niku Jafarnia ’19 spent Winter Term in Amman, Jordan, undertaking an independent clinical with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Her commitment to working with refugees and asylum seekers began in college, when she drew on her Iranian heritage and her fluency in Farsi as an intake volunteer. A semester abroad, and later a Fulbright grant, took her to Turkey, where she lived in a city with a large Iranian and Afghan LGBTI refugee community. “I started teaching them English classes and tried to support them along their journey. I essentially chose to come to law school to be a better advocate for these communities.”

At HLS, Jafarnia became deeply involved in work arising from the executive orders banning travelers from Muslim countries from entering the U.S., gathering a group of classmates to protest at Logan Airport, returning the next week to assist affected travelers and working with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic on its amicus briefs to the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court. Her Winter Term clinical in Jordan afforded her an opportunity to explore the full effects of the ban, well before the people affected try to enter the U.S. For the two years before the ban, “the U.S. was taking in significantly more refugees than any other place in the world. At the end of the day, even though many more spots have opened up in other countries, it’s just not enough to make up for the decrease in U.S. spots,” she explains.

Working at IRAP allowed her to refine the client intake skills she has been building through the chance to interview clients during her time there. Additionally, drawing on her earlier experience in Turkey, she researched and drafted a memo describing the ways in which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has failed to meet its own standards. IRAP also set up meetings for its interns with a wide range of important actors, from UNHCR and UNICEF to smaller NGOs working on the ground. “It was an amazing opportunity to get an in-depth look as to what issues refugees are facing daily—from a basic, housing-and-needs level, to a policy level in Jordan.”

Traveling to Jordan gave Jafarnia a chance to address these issues from a new comparative lens. “Each country presents a unique set of challenges for refugees”; she notes; Jordan hosts a significant number of refugees, but does not offer employment for them, and is almost entirely landlocked, which makes it more difficult for refugees to leave.

“My hope for the future is to start my own organization, giving refugees legal assistance but also empowering refugees with legal backgrounds to be doing this work themselves,” she explains. “I think countries have to work significantly harder at giving refugees work opportunities. Once you let people in, they need to be given the opportunity to create a life for themselves. There’s an image of people who have been displaced as burdens on the system, when in fact they’re not given the opportunity to be self-sustaining.” Her Winter Term work in Jordan has confirmed for her that this is a change that has to happen very soon.

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A celebration of immigration

Via Harvard Gazette

With DACA in place for now, day’s events focus on protecting students, and on the artistry that other cultures bestow

Jason Corral and Cindy Zapata of the Immigration and Refugee Clinic advised students of their legal rights during "A Day of Hope of Resistance," part of a series of events exploring questions about the termination of DACA and TPS, deportations, and the current state of immigration policy.

Jason Corral and Cindy Zapata of the Immigration and Refugee Clinic advised students of their legal rights during “A Day of Hope of Resistance,” part of a series of events exploring questions about the termination of DACA and TPS, deportations, and the current state of immigration policy.
Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Life for undocumented immigrants is full of risks. Any encounter with law-enforcement officials — on the sidewalk, while they are driving, or in their homes in the middle of the night — can lead to arrest and possible deportation.

But in all such cases, undocumented immigrants have rights. They have the right to remain silent, to refuse to consent to a search, and to decline to open the front door unless officials have a warrant.

At a workshop on immigrants’ rights held Monday morning at the Memorial Church, attorneys Jason Corral and Cindy Zapata of the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program shared legal advice on how to deal with the more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws under the Trump administration. Corral has provided legal services to at least 60 undocumented students studying at Harvard.

“In this new day and age, any evidence you can provide, you can end up in removal proceedings,” said Corral.

The event was part of the DACA Seminar, a series of daylong events on campus to highlight, among other things, the future of the federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era initiative that protects young immigrants from deportation.

Nearly 800,000 young immigrants have benefited from the program, but last September the Trump administration announced its end and set March 5 as a deadline for Congress to come up with a solution for those under its protections. But the deadline lost much of its meaning when the Supreme Court said that it would not rule on the administration’s plan to end the program. Federal district judges in New York and California had blocked the move to end DACA.

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Concern over a DACA deadline

Via Harvard Law Today

At an HLS event, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic directors will discuss legal strategies for fighting back on DACA deadline

Concern over a DACA deadline

Credit: Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
HGSE Professor Roberto Gonzales is one of the organizers of the DACA seminar at Harvard, a series of events exploring questions about the termination of DACA and TPS, deportations, and the current state of immigration policy.

Between 60 and 80 undocumented students are studying at Harvard, and though they’re a small fraction of the student body, some could have their lives eventually turned upside down.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had pegged March 5 as the end date for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which legally shields young immigrant students from deportation. It has been unclear what the government would do after the deadline passes. However, the Supreme Court said on Monday that it would not rule on the administration plan to end the program. Since federal district judges in New York and California previously issued injunctions against its quick end, the March 5 date likely is now too soon for a program phase-out. Still, the students’ worries remain.

To draw attention to the students’ quandary, three Harvard professors and a Ph.D. student in African and African American studies launched the DACA Seminar, a series of events on campus aimed at sparking conversations about the future of DACA and immigration policy and reform, while working to understand the students’ options.

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