Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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Tag: HIRC

HIRC, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and Justice Action Center file FOIA lawsuit on DACA

via HIRC blog

On August 3rd, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program joined Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and the Justice Action Center in filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in order to obtain information on the federal government’s immigration enforcement against recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The lawsuit is in response to the lack of compliance with a FOIA that the Justice Action Center submitted in January 2020. This FOIA requested documents regarding the federal government’s scheduling of removal proceedings for DACA recipients that have been administratively closed.

You can read the entire FOIA lawsuit here.

Crimmigration Clinic files petition with the U.S. Supreme Court

via Crimmigration Blog

Today, the Crimmigration Clinic filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court in a case that seeks to clarify the type of legal advice noncitizen-defendants must receive from their defense about the immigration consequences of a prospective guilty plea.  

The petition specifically asks the Court to review the case of Alfredo Juarez, a former lawful permanent resident who was wrongfully deported nearly eight years ago after pleading guilty to a Colorado misdemeanor drug possession charge. Mr. Juarez accepted the plea deal based on incorrect advice from his defense counsel, who failed to clearly explain that federal law would require his automatic deportation if he pleaded guiltyAfter entering his guilty plea, Mr. Juarez was deported to his country of nationality and away from his wife and two children.  

Shortly after he was deportedMr. Juarez filed a motion asking the court to allow him to withdraw the guilty plea because he had not been properly advised about its automatic immigration consequences. The motion was denied and Mr. Juarez appealed that decision through the Colorado court system up to the Colorado Supreme Court, which dismissed his appeal and determined that defense counsel need only caution that a guilty plea carries a risk of deportation—even when federal law clearly states that deportation is mandatory. 

The Crimmigration Clinic, which is part of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School, jumped in to represent Mr. Juarez in his request to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision. Ian Ramsey-North, a law student intern with the Crimmigration Clinic, who worked closely with the clinic’s director Phil Torrey on the petition, said “I firmly believe that defendants like Alfredo Juarez have a right to a higher standard of representation and I want to see a favorable outcome in this case so he can come home.”   

There is a significant conflict among both state high courts and federal circuit courts about the content of advice defense counsel must provide to noncitizen-defendants who are deciding whether to plead guilty to a criminal offense. A majority of courts throughout the country require counsel to provide unambiguous advice about the clear immigration consequences of a guilty pleaOther courts, however, simply require counsel to caution noncitizen-defendants that the guilty plea may carry a risk of deportation. This case provides the Supreme Court with an opportunity to resolve that conflict.  

According to Ramsey-North, “the petition will hopefully bolster the constitutional rights of noncitizendefendants throughout the country, and allow Mr. Juarez to be reunited with his family in Colorado. 

HIRC Welcomes New Staff

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program recently welcomed Mariam Liberles as a staff attorney, as well as Sameer Ahmed as Clinical Instructor.

Mariam Liberles

via HIRC

We are thrilled to announce that Mariam Liberles will be joining the team at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) as a staff attorney.

Prior to joining HIRC, Mariam worked for nine years at Catholic Charities of Boston as a supervising attorney (2014-2020) and a staff attorney (2011-2014). At Catholic Charities, Mariam represented clients in a wide range of immigration matters, including family-based and humanitarian cases. She also previously served as a volunteer attorney in the Immigration Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services and worked as an immigration attorney at the International Institute of Boston. Mariam received her B.A. from UCLA and her J.D. from Seattle University School of Law. Mariam is originally from Yerevan, Armenia and speaks Armenian, Russian, Spanish, and basic French.

Please join us in wishing a warm welcome to Mariam!

Sameer Ahmed

via HIRC

We are delighted to announce that Sameer Ahmed will be joining the team at the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program!

Sameer was previously an assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University School of Law. Prior to that, he served as a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, where he specialized in immigrants’ rights litigation and policy advocacy. His work included challenging federal immigration national security policies that discriminate against Muslim immigrants, ensuring mentally ill immigrants have access to counsel in removal proceedings, protecting the rights of DACA recipients and immigrants in the military, and advocating on behalf of immigrants in Orange County, California. During that time, Sameer served on the board of the Orange County Justice Fund and the City of Santa Ana’s Sanctuary Policy Advisory Group.

Sameer has also served as a senior litigation associate at WilmerHale and as a Skadden Fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). He has taught as an adjunct professor in the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and at the University of Maine School of Law. He clerked for Judge Kermit V. Lipez of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and for Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  He received a J.D. from Yale Law School, a Master’s Degree in Legal Research from Oxford University (where he was a Marshall Scholar), and a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Stanford University.

Sameer also serves on the board of Project Citizenship, a nonprofit agency which provides high-quality free legal services to immigrants all over Massachusetts.

Please join us in welcoming Sameer to the HIRC family!

 

 

Supreme Court decision shielding DACA draws relief, celebration

by Colleen Walsh

via The Harvard Gazette

Dreamers and DACA supporters rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 vote, the court rejected the Trump administration’s push to end an Obama-era program that gives nearly 700,000 Dreamers the ability to work in the United States and avoid deportation. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

In a closely watched and hotly awaited ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly rejected the Trump’s administration’s move to end a program protecting young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, shielding for now nearly 700,000 so-called Dreamers from deportation.

The 5-4 decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was written by Chief Justice John Roberts ’76, J.D. ’79, who sided with more-liberal justices for the second time this week in a major, high-profile case. News of the judgment was met with relief and celebration by Dreamers and supporters of immigrants’ rights across the country, as well as by DACA recipients, professors, and staff in the Harvard community.

“Congress should now turn its attention to immigration reform and provide a pathway to citizenship for these young people and others, including individuals with temporary protected status,” wrote Harvard President Larry Bacow in a letter to faculty, staff, students, and alumni. “I also hope that rather than reflexively closing our borders to immigrants, and to nonimmigrants who wish to pursue educational opportunities in America, we can once again live up to our promise as a nation that welcomes those who seek a better life for themselves and their children — people who have traditionally contributed much to the fabric and greatness of our country,”

Protecting undocumented students both on Harvard’s campus and beyond has been a priority for Bacow, who is the son of immigrants. “There are complex issues that need to be addressed, but America will be better — and stronger — for all parties coming together to find common ground on this issue. Until then, I will continue to advocate for Dreamers and for their ability to contribute to a country that has been their home since childhood,” he wrote.

Members of the community, including students and alumni who are protected under DACA praised the Court’s ruling, among them Mitchell Santos Toledo, J.D. ’20, a recent Harvard Law School graduate who arrived in Cambridge not long after President Donald Trump announced his plans in 2017 to cancel the program, which had been instituted by President Barack Obama in 2012.

“It was rough. You’re talking about moving across the country, starting this huge academic journey at a School at Harvard, and then having the only semblance of protection that you’ve known for the past five, six years sort of just yanked from underneath you,” said Toledo, whose name was listed in the documents submitted to the court in support of DACA.

Toledo called the court’s decision “a validation of the years of advocacy, by undocumented folks and our allies, on the streets and in the halls of our nation’s courts and congressional chambers.”

“This ongoing effort reflects not only the passion and dedication of the undocumented community but also the resiliency instilled in us by generations of our ancestors without which this outcome may have been different,” he said. “While this is a moment for the DACA-eligible community to take in a breath of relief, we absolutely cannot forget the bigger picture — comprehensive immigration reform benefiting all undocumented folks.”

Daniela Castro, a rising junior and sociology concentrator at the College originally from Honduras, voiced similar sentiments.

“I grew up with the fear of deportation and would have nightmares of being forced to return to a country I only experienced in scraps — of stories, photographs, and handmade bracelets sent by relatives,” said Castro, who is also the advocacy chair at Act on a Dream, a student-based group on campus that supports immigration reform. And as appreciative as she is of the protection DACA affords youth like her, Castro notes that the program “forgets about parents, forgets about people that have established roots and relations in a country that refuses to accept them and threatens to dismantle their legacies.” It also fails, she said, to further the goal of “citizenship for all undocumented people.”

Leo Garcia ’21 co-directs Act on a Dream. A native of Bogota, Colombia, he came to the U.S. at the age of 3 and grew up in Houston. Garcia received protection under DACA several years ago, but said he still lived in fear for his parents and for the millions of other undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Garcia called Thursday’s ruling, along with the court’s decision earlier this week protecting gay and transgendered workers’ rights, “a reminder this is a bare-minimum recognition of these communities being human and being deserving of rights. I think that these are small victories. We need to push for a more inclusive solution, a more long-term solution” that covers the millions of immigrants and provides a pathway to citizenship.

Roberto Gonzales, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has helped lead a study that tracks how the administrative policy has affected the lives of hundreds of people living under its protection. Bracing for a different decision, Gonzales said he, along with a number of his Harvard colleagues, was surprised by the court’s ruling.

“The longer this decision got put off, I think that many of us really thought that it was going to go the other way. But the decisions of the last two weeks, I think, represent a small but significant, tiny change. And so I had a sliver of hope that it might go this way, and it did,” he said.

The judgment was an important win for DACA advocates, but it remains to be seen how the administration will react to it, and whether it will try to push back with an election looming and the political landscape potentially shifting, Gonzales added.

“Immigration has been Trump’s central issue from his campaign through his policymaking as president. But consistently, polls show that the American public favors immigration reform. They favor a legalization, and more so for something to be done for young people who don’t have legal status. And so I think that what perhaps we’re seeing here is pushback that is gaining momentum, a pushback against the kind of running rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House and the Trump policies.

“It will be interesting to see what advocacy looks like moving forward on this issue in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Will we see more kinds of expansive, intersectional arguments and advocacy coming from immigrant rights groups? All of this is speculation, but I think today’s decision opens up a lot of possibilities.”

The White House did not have an immediate comment, but Trump blasted the DACA decision as well as Monday’s ruling on LGBT rights on Twitter. Calling them “horrible & politically charged decisions” he characterized them as “shotgun blasts” to Republicans and other conservatives.

Ximena Morales ’22 said that she thinks the next election will be a turning point for Dreamers. “I think November is going to be such a critical time,” she said. “I think it’ll be the deciding factor in how the future of DACA will play out.”

A rising junior, government concentrator, and co-director of Act on a Dream, Morales was born in Mexico and brought here as a toddler. She said she was always aware of her undocumented status and took pains to try to hide it from friends when she was growing up in southeastern Wisconsin. Being able to apply for DACA protection in high school changed her life, she said, and opened up important doors to work and education.

At Harvard Law School, Professor Sabrineh Ardalan broke down the decision, saying that the court found the administration hadn’t adequately explained why DACA was unlawful.

“The court says that if the administration wanted to end DACA, it would have had to engage in a much more rigorous analysis, including of the reliance interests at stake, and it didn’t provide a reasoned explanation for its decision. And so, its decision to end the program was arbitrary and capricious because it didn’t go through those steps,” said Ardalan, who directs the Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Harvard Law School, which helps hundreds of people with undocumented status through a range of programs.

Ardalan also called the ruling “hugely important for so many members of the Harvard community, for so many Americans. These are young people who are part of part of our community, who are our community, whose home is here. And this decision recognizes that.

“Ultimately, what DACA recipients need is a long-term solution on a path to citizenship. And so, my hope is that Congress can act to provide them with that, and not just DACA recipients, but also [Temporary Protected Status] holders and so many others.”

Earlier this month Bacow sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf urging them to support nonimmigrant visas and their work authorizations, and reject attempts to restrict Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the STEM extension, programs that lengthen academic student visas.

Such programs offer students vital training opportunities, are critical to fields such as engineering and health care, and are essential to helping universities attract top candidates, said Bacow.

Supreme Court blocks Trump’s DACA shutdown

by Sarah Betancourt

via CommonWealth Magazine

Estefany Pineda, DACA recipient and University of Massachusetts-Boston student, during a protest with the Student Immigrant Movement.

IN A MAJOR SETBACK for President Trump, the US Supreme Court blocked the administration’s attempt to end a federal program that protects 700,000 immigrants nationwide and more than 5,600 in Massachusetts from being deported.

The 5-4 ruling allows the immigrants, who were brought to the US as children and are known as DREAMers, to maintain their legal status, at least for the time being. The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the Trump administration’s move was “arbitrary and capricious” and failed to adhere to procedures required by administrative federal law. Roberts was joined in the decision by the court’s four liberal justices, while the four most reliable conservatives dissented.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program was launched by President Obama in 2012 through executive action. It provides law-abiding beneficiaries that fit certain parameters (like being present in the US before 2007) with provisional rights like driver’s licenses, work permits, and the ability to go to college. It was rescinded by former attorney general Jeff Sessions in August 2017, who wrote at the time that the program was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

But the court’s decision, upholding the rulings of three federal appeals courts, said the Trump administration failed to consider the impact of its DACA decision on those who had come to rely on the program for employment and protection from deportation.

“We address only whether the [Department of Homeland Security] complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” wrote Roberts. “Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner.”

The DACA case marks the second time the Trump administration has lost an administrative law case, the first of which involved the US Census.

Trump responded to the decision on Twitter by retweeting a screenshot of Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent, saying, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” He also attempted to turn the ruling to his political advantage, tweeting out that “we need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!”

The program’s specifications were remanded back to the Department of Homeland Security to be “considered anew,” which means, for now, the Supreme Court’s decision applies only to current DACA recipients.

Since 2017, current recipients are allowed to renew their status, which is adjudicated by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency on a case by case basis. No new applicants have been accepted since late 2017, and advocates said a total of 1.5 million people could be eligible or benefit from the program. For some DACA recipients who were unable to successfully renew in the past three years, issues like losing health insurance and employment had arisen, since a Social Security number is required for that.

The Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which adjudicates DACA renewals, did not respond to requests for comment. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, condemned the decision in a series of tweets, saying Obama made up “laws” on sticky notes. “We need more good justices,” he tweeted.

Sociologist Roberto Gonzalez, considered by many to be the preeminent scholar on DACA, has studied the program for its duration, surveying thousands of recipients of how the benefits have impacted their lives.

“This decision puts the ball back into the court of the Trump administration,” he said after reviewing the decision Thursday. “While I don’t suspect they will try to move on terminating it any time soon, I don’t think they will expand the program to allow for new applications. Those who have DACA will keep it for the time being. But I don’t think there will be new opportunities to acquire DACA. This would also hinge on what Congress decides to do with respect to a more permanent solution.

The day Estefany Pineda started school at the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2017, the Trump administration announced it was rescinding DACA, which she took advantage of in 2016.

Pineda came to the United States from El Salvador when she was nine after a gang threatened her and her sisters. She and her sisters left in the middle of the night, traveled for three weeks, and met her mother in the US, who had immigrated when she was three.

Pineda pays around $500 every two years to re-apply for DACA status. She has been awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision for months. “I am so happy that they chose to rule in our favor, in favor of Dreamers. I am not a crier and I immediately cried once I saw the decision,” she said.

As Pineda begins her senior year, she said a lot was at stake for her – whether she would retain access to in-state tuition and whether she could get a job after graduation.

Pamela Portocarrero came to the US when she was 10 from Peru, and had concerns over what the end of the program would mean for her; her husband, who is also a DACA recipient; and her recently born daughter, who is a US citizen.

“I’m glad this allows the program to continue, that I get the opportunity to continue to work, to live in this country, which is my home, and to remain with my family and people I care about,” she said.

Portocarrero credits the program for allowing her to be able to finish her bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations at the University of Utah in 2014. It took her seven years to get her degree, juggling work and school. Once she obtained a Social Security number, she was able to get a more secure job and finish her last few semesters all at once.

She moved to Boston with her family in 2018 and said being a DACA recipient allows her to keep her job working at a local university.

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, commended the court and said “President Trump and his administration’s decision to abandon the DACA program was a political one, not a legal one.”

Attorney General Maura Healey joined one of several lawsuits defending the program, which was later consolidated into a single case resulting in today’s decision. Healey released a statement on Thursday with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who co-chairs the Democratic Attorneys General Association with her, calling the ruling a “win for democracy.”

Healey said Massachusetts is home to more than 1 million immigrants, including nearly 20,000 DACA-eligible residents, most of whom haven’t had to apply for the program since it was shutdown.

“Given the tough questions asked at oral argument, it wasn’t at all clear which way the court would come out,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical program, which provides legal help to immigrants. “This is such a critically important victory and recognition that the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA were unlawful.”

Pineda agreed with Ardalan, saying that while the Supreme Court decision is a big win, she is hoping for more. “We have no path to citizenship as DACA recipients, so we are stuck,” she said.

Congress also has the DREAM and Promise Act to consider, which would create a pathway to citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants living their lives in two-year increments.

Portocarrero said she is hopeful Congress will act. Otherwise, she said, her life in the US continues to have “an expiration date, and living like that is always worrisome.”

HIRC at GBLS has Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals victory

via HIRC blog

by Mary Hewey

 

 

Recently, our HIRC at GBLS team, including Co-Managing Directors Nancy Kelly and John Willshire-Carrera and former Albert M. Sacks Clinical Teaching & Advocacy Fellow Maggie Morgan, had a victory in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Their client, a woman from Honduras, had previously filed a motion to reopen, which was denied by an Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In the denial, the BIA claimed that there was no material change in country conditions in Honduras since 2005, when their client had been ordered removed in absentia. HIRC filed an appeal in 2017, arguing that the BIA erred by ignoring the 2009 coup, which had greatly worsened gender-related violence and government protections for women. In their decision, the Fifth Circuit pointed to this error, stating:

“The BIA did not even mention the 2009 coup in its opinion finding that Inestroza-Antonelli had failed to establish changed country conditions. And, other than a conclusory statement that it had “considered [Inestroza Antonelli’s] arguments,” there is no indication that the BIA meaningfully evaluated her evidence of institutional changes following the coup.”

You can read the full decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals here.

HLS clinics and students fight for the most vulnerable amid COVID-19

via Harvard Law Today

by Brett Milano

Computer screen showing Zoom session between three people

Zack Manley ’21 (upper left) and Norah Rast ’21 meet with Clinical Professor Sabi Ardalan ’02 (upper right), director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, to discuss legal strategy to get their client, an asylum seeker, out of Stewart Detention Center, where several employees and immigrants have tested positive for COVID-19. They recently won a stay of their client’s deportation and are appealing his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

For the Clinical Program at Harvard Law School, the past weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time to mobilize. As the clinics have moved to working remotely, their work has continued with new urgency—and often, with new challenges as well.

“The Law School’s clinics and student practice organizations have been incredibly nimble in their ability to continue to advocate for their existing clients and also to take on the emerging legal needs of community members related to the COVID-19 outbreak,” says Dan Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education. “Clinical directors and supervisors and their students are using a variety of technology—from Zoom to FaceTime to telephone—to be accessible to each other and to their client communities, and to meet the pressing legal needs of the most vulnerable. Many courts and agencies have ongoing and active dockets and are conducting hearings remotely, and students, staff, and faculty at clinics and student practice organizations across HLS are continuing to do critical work in a variety of legal areas.”

“This work also includes absolutely vital policy advocacy by clinics to ensure that governmental responses to the pandemic take into account questions of equity and access to healthcare, financial assistance, and other supports,” Nagin added.

Each clinic has also adapted to working online. “Zoom is our new best friend,”  says Clinical Professor Robert Greenwald, faculty director of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI). “I’ve learned to teach online, and I’m now a savant at Google Docs. I have AirPods attached to my head for 12-15 hours each day. But we’ve adjusted.”

CHLPI, he says, remains on the front line of advocating for the care and treatment of low-income populations. “We are working to secure testing and treatment, as well as all other necessary health care, for those who are most vulnerable, including many people living with AIDs, racial and ethnic groups that are historically disenfranchised, and the growing number of people who are uninsured.”

The work involves numerous efforts on both the local and national levels. They have called on the Trump administration to use its emergency authority to allow for early and extended drug refills, and to fill gaps in the next stimulus package, including an increase in Medicaid funding and an extension of no-cost testing and treatment. They are also working with several partners, such as Feeding America and the national Food is Medicine Coalition, to address the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable populations. And they are working to promote equal health access within Massachusetts, calling on Governor Charlie Baker to collect and publish testing data related to race and ethnicity to identify the hardest-hit groups.

Robert Greenwald as seen through a video conferencing screen

Robert Greenwald, faculty director of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, has shared his public health expertise with multiple national media outlets during the COVID-19 crisis, including in an April 8 interview with WNBC on privacy concerns with police departments maintaining a list of addresses of confirmed coronavirus cases.

CHLPI has also taken on the challenge of preserving the Affordable Care Act. Two students, Isaac Green ’22 and Will Dobbs-Allsopp ’20, are currently working to get the Trump administration and 18 state attorneys general to withdraw from a Supreme Court challenge to the ACA. Though the administration seems determined to overturn the act, Dobbs-Allsopp says, grassroots efforts on the local level could make the difference. The clinic is planning to work with community health groups in different states.

“At the end of the day, attorneys general are politicians who respond to political pressure. People’s interest in universal health coverage has picked up, and you’re going to see some interesting polling in the next few weeks,” Dobbs-Allsopp says. “They’re realizing that getting rid of this law means the disease will persist and the economy will get even worse.”

In addition to the work we’re doing with individual clients, we are asking what work we can be doing to fight the systemic causes of poverty, so that these issues don’t keep coming up.

Kiah Duggins ’21, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau president

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) correctly predicted that the virus would disproportionately affect minority and impoverished communities—an idea that is only now beginning to hit the mainstream. HLAB’s President Kiah Duggins ’21, who works closely with HLAB Faculty Director Esme Caramello ’99, cites the inaccuracy of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reference to the virus as “the great equalizer.”

“The narrative is that anyone can get the virus, which is true. But low-income workers are either on the frontlines without adequate protection, or they’re disproportionately in danger of losing their jobs,” Duggins says. “And as the numbers come out, we’re seeing that black people are dying at disproportionately high rates.”

She adds, “This has raised interesting discussions about our mission, because a lot of the issues that Americans are facing because of the crisis have been faced by lower-income people forever. The crisis has elevated that in the public consciousness. So, in addition to the work we’re doing with individual clients, we are asking what work we can be doing to fight the systemic causes of poverty, so that these issues don’t keep coming up.”

This, she says, includes working with Greater Boston Legal Services and City Life/Vida Urbana in Jamaica Plain.

“Even before the crisis we were trying to promote racial and economic justice, to empower those communities directly,” Duggins says. “And the crisis has made it clear how the causes and consequences of poverty affect these communities. So we’re now able to get things done, like an eviction moratorium or rent suspension. People who weren’t supportive before are supportive now because it affects a broader swath of people.”

A group of HLAB members standing in front of MA House of Representative steps. Many are holding signs or banners.

In early March, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Greater Boston Legal Services and City Life/Vida Urbana organized a rally in front of Boston Housing Court to make the case for a complete halt to any evictions while the state of emergency in Massachusetts remains in effect. On April 2, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed legislation based on HD.4935, an act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 emergency.

HLAB has also been working to help the University support lower-income Harvard students who were approved to continue living in on-campus housing. “Many of the members of HLAB are lower-income and people of color, so the worlds are more interconnected than you might think. We want to make sure we’re creating healthy lawyers,” Duggins says.

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) is continuing its mission of advocating for immigrant justice. And it’s now, more than ever, trying to respond to the health-threatening conditions within immigration detention centers.

“We’re continuing our work on behalf of clients, including litigation and policy advocacy,” says HIRC Director and Clinical Law Professor Sabrineh Ardalan ’02. “We’re focusing on getting clients out of immigration detention, given the conditions and risks of being detained right now due to COVID-19.”

One of the HIRC clients, she notes, is an asylum seeker detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, where conditions are dire. “He sleeps in a room with more than 60 people in bunk beds, so there is no social distancing. At meals, they sit four to a table and he works in food prep, where there are 30-40 people who work the shift. Very few guards have protective gear, and there are documented reports of officials and immigrants with COVID-19 in the facility.”

Circumstances in Massachusetts detention facilities, Ardalan says, are also dismal. The Crimmigration Clinic, directed by Phil Torrey, has filed habeas petitions to seek the release of two immigrant clients detained at the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield, Mass. The petitions argue that these individuals are being held in violation of their Fifth Amendment rights and both have lodged claims concerning potential COVID-19 exposure. Sarah Libowsky ’20 and Michael Hur ’20 are tentatively scheduled to argue one of the habeas petitions on April 16 before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Similarly, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services, led by Nancy Kelly and John Willshire Carrera, joined the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire in filing an emergency federal habeas lawsuit on behalf of an indigenous Guatemalan asylum seeker detained in Strafford, New Hampshire, and managed to secure his release from detention.

HIRC attorneys and its social work team are also trying to respond to the needs of immigrant clients who are not detained, but who are in precarious circumstances due to COVID-19. “Some are worried about how to pay rent and feed their families. Others are still going to work, because remote work isn’t an option, and their health is at risk because of it,” Ardalan says. Immigrant families may be afraid to access the health care and services they need, due to concerns about immigration enforcement.

HIRC has joined the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, among dozens of other organizations, in submitting a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local county sheriffs and jail wardens of the facilities that contract with ICE, urging them to cease local immigration enforcement operations and arrests and release immigrants in custody in light of the pandemic.

“It has been very difficult. A variety of lawsuits have been filed across the country with mixed results,” Ardalan says. One encouraging sign, she says, is that some local courts and officials have proved willing to step in and order immigrants’ release from detention. “I hope that all our advocacy efforts will bear fruit, because circumstances are so dire.”

Screenshot shows a Zoom meeting with 9 women holding signs that read 'free her'

The Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project is advocating for immediate release of vulnerable inmates who pose no public risk to protect the incarcerated community from COVID-19.

The Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) has also been working to keep incarcerated people safe from COVID-19. PLAP hosted a Zoom phone bank on April 3 as part of the Massachusetts week of action, organized by Families for Justice as Healing and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. PLAP is calling on district attorneys, sheriffs, the governor, elected representatives, and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to demand immediate release of vulnerable inmates who pose no public risk to protect the incarcerated community from COVID-19.

Harvard’s Federal Tax Clinic has remained busy even as the IRS itself has largely shut down. That means pressing forward with cases that were underway before the pandemic hit. “We deal with people having some kind of problem with the IRS—either they owe and they need to work out payments, or the IRS says they owe more than they think,” says Clinic Director T. Keith Fogg. Clients are currently having difficulty reaching anyone at the IRS—which has closed its last operating service center, causing cases in the administrative stage to be put on hold. Yet cases in court are still moving forward remotely, so there is still plenty of work for clinic students.

The clinic is also working with direct consequences of the pandemic, including laying some groundwork for the post-recovery era. For one thing, Fogg says, we can probably expect a shift to more email filing and electronic signatures in the future. And the recent implementation of the CARES act, which provides a $1200 rebate to some workers, has also opened work possibilities.

“We’ve been talking a fair amount to people at the IRS about implementing their procedures during the crisis, and explaining to the community what new provisions mean,” Fogg says. The clinic is already engaged in advocacy to reduce the number of people who need to file a tax return to receive the rebate (the IRS has already exempted regular social security recipients). Advocacy efforts are ongoing to exempt recipients of Supplemental Security Income and Veterans benefits who desperately need the financial help.

Faculty and students at the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) have also stepped up their work during the pandemic, writing briefs aimed at saving tons of food that could feed the hungry, and working to inform the response to COVID-19, including congressional legislation. In the early stages of the crisis, FLPC acted quickly to outline avenues for donating excess food in the wake of campus and business shutdowns to help feed the hungry. Since then, the clinic has developed and amplified several other resources on using food donation to support food banks and other food recovery organizations, which are facing both an increase in demand and limited resources.

“There are already so many people who were in vulnerable situations,” says Emily Broad Leib ’08, director of FLPC and deputy director of the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. “The crisis has exacerbated food access challenges for those people, and it has added so many more individuals and families in need. Workers are losing jobs, especially those doing hourly work—many, in fact, who work in the food industry. We are going to see a huge increase in people who suddenly need help getting basic needs met, especially food.”

Screen shot of Emily Broad Lieb speaking on a podcast about food law

On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on March 25, Emily Broad Leib, director of HLS’ Food Law & Policy Clinic, talked about food law and policy concerns in the COVID-19 crisis, including protecting and promoting better wages for food workers.

The FLPC has also responded to new concerns about food safety by preparing an issue brief with recommendations for federal and state governments to facilitate food delivery during the crisis using existing food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

They also have come up with proposals for getting food from food banks and other organizations delivered directly to people’s doors, and for getting Congress to  support these community-based food delivery organizations. Their recommendations include investments in technologies that connect food donors to recovery organizations.

“We make the point that these technologies can be really responsive to the challenges of the moment,” says Broad Leib, “but most of them have been developed by small nonprofits. Helping them scale up quickly to meet the needs of the growing number of people who need food support is going to require an investment.”

HIRC students win deportation relief for East African man

via HIRC blog

Though Massachusetts is far from the Southern border, many immigrants are still detained across the state. Until recently, one of those detainees was John*, a man who was tortured in his home country in East Africa. John ended up in detention because certain criminal convictions triggered the deportation process and eventually led his case to the Clinic. HIRC students Michael Hur ’20, Sarah Libowsky ’20, and Eun Sung Yang ’20 were assigned to the case, working under the supervision of HIRC’s Director Sabi Ardalan and Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata.

John’s clinical team began by meeting with Crimmigration Clinic students Niku Jafarnia ’20 and Krista Oehlke ’20, who used their knowledge of the criminal and immigration systems to determine what immigration protections John would be eligible for. Because of the nature of some of John’s convictions, he was barred from asylum and withholding of removal. Ultimately, John’s legal team concluded that his best option would be to pursue deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Having determined what relief was available to John, Michael and Eun Sung began to build a case. However, because John was detained, they were unable to communicate by phone, which meant three-hour round trip drives to visit their client in person at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Not only did working with a detained client mean long days of travel, but detention also created additional challenges to representation. Like many clients who come to HIRC, John had faced persecution and violence in his home country. He was detained and tortured as a young child and suffered from severe trauma as a result of these experiences. This lasting trauma often made discussions necessary to build his case very difficult to navigate.

“Although a necessary part of preparing his case, recounting his childhood experiences to us in detail retriggered his trauma, which caused him to lose his appetite and to develop insomnia,” Michael explained. HIRC clinical social worker Liala Buoniconti traveled with the team to the detention center to help provide support, but John, like many detained individuals, was still unable to access the medical and mental health services he so desperately needed.

“There were times when his trauma symptoms compromised his ability to remember key details, to recount his story, and to process and understand fully what we were explaining to him,” Michael added. This was particularly difficult because, in order to be granted deferral of removal under CAT, the students had to prove that it would be more than likely than not (greater than 50%) that John would be tortured if returned to his home country. By comparison, asylum-seekers need to demonstrate only a 10% likelihood of persecution.

Yet despite facing these numerous obstacles, the students continued to work to build the best possible case for John. “I would often leave meetings feeling upset that we could leave Plymouth but our client could not, but also feeling more motivated to fight for our client’s release from detention,” said Sarah. After numerous meetings with John and many hours spent compiling supporting documents and expert testimony, the students submitted an over-700 page filing. Two weeks later, John and his legal team arrived at the Boston Immigration Court for his merits hearing. Both Eun Sung and Michael described the hearing as a highlight of their experience working on the case.

“The hearing provided a great opportunity to see our client share his story so powerfully in court and to observe (alongside a multitude of students, attorneys, and volunteers who had worked on the case) how the semester’s work could support him and help shape the hearing,” Eun Sung said. Both John and his supporters were overjoyed when the judge granted John deferral of removal. After so many hours of hard work and preparation, their client was now finally going to be released from detention.

“There were several nights when I had trouble sleeping because I was worried about our client getting deported, which very likely meant torture or even death,” Michael recalled. “When the judge finally gave us her oral decision, my immediate reaction was to clutch the client’s hand and smile.”

Detention is a painful and dehumanizing experience for many of our clients, especially for those like John who have mental health needs that are rarely met in detention facilities. We are relieved that John can now begin to access the support he needs to build a secure life in the United States.

*Name has been changed to respect client confidentiality. 

Thanks to HIRC staff Sabi Ardalan, Liala Buoniconti, Phil Torrey, and Cindy Zapata for their supervision of this case. Thanks also to HIRC & Crimmigration clinical students Michael Hur ’20, Niku Jafarnia ’20, Sarah Libowsky ’20, Krista Oehlke ’20, and Eun Sung Yang ’20 for their hard work.

In recent years, four Mass. jails got $164 million in federal money to house ICE detainees

An ICE officer badge in gold and blue is shown clippped to a belt of an officer

Credit: FRANCISCO KJOLSETH/THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE VIA AP

via The Boston Globe

by Danny McDonald

The state has received more than $160 million in funding from federal immigration authorities since 2012, mostly in exchange for keeping and transporting ICE detainees in jails run by four Massachusetts sheriff’s departments, a Globe review has found.

The sum, brought into the state’s coffers through controversial contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has raised the eyebrows of some advocates and immigration attorneys who oppose the agreements and think there are better alternatives.

The sheriff’s offices, meanwhile, have defended the arrangements, with at least two departments saying their relationship with ICE has made Massachusetts residents safer.

The funding in question stemmed from agreements between ICE and the sheriff’s offices for Plymouth, Bristol, Franklin, and Suffolk counties, according to spreadsheets and invoices obtained through public records requests. Suffolk announced in October that it would end its relationship with ICE so it can provide rehabilitative services to more women who will soon be housed at its South End jail commonly referred to as South Bay.

Prepared for the Challenge

via Harvard Law Bulletin Winter 2020

by Cara Solomon

Profile photo of Brianna Rennix, leaning against a white wood railing

Credit: Matthew Mahon

It was just the seed of an idea 35 years ago: a clinic that would train students to work in the emerging field of immigration law. Back then, asylum law was only a few years old.

Today the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, or HIRC, is a leader in the field. The program trains more than 130 students a year in direct representation, policy advocacy and appellate litigation; represents more than 100 clients annually; and supervises a student practice organization, the HLS Immigration Project.

But in the beginning, it was just Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84, who co-founded HIRC with John Willshire Carrera and Nancy Kelly to fill a critical gap in legal services for immigrants and refugees. Although immigrants have a right to counsel in immigration proceedings, it’s at their own expense. And many can’t afford a lawyer. HIRC’s bottom-up approach of representing individuals through all stages of the immigration process—from the trial level up to the Supreme Court—reflects its client-centered practice.

As the law itself has evolved, so too has HIRC. Anker continues to support the program as founding director, and former Assistant Director Sabrineh “Sabi” Ardalan ’02, who specializes in trauma and refugees, now leads the program as HIRC’s recently appointed faculty director. Phil Torrey, managing attorney and lecturer on law, joined the team in 2011 and created HIRC’s Crimmigration Clinic, expanding the program’s docket to tackle the intersection of criminal law and immigration, given how intertwined the fields have become. Several years ago, HIRC became among the few clinical programs to hire a social worker to support the needs of clients, students and staff.

Through the years, HIRC challenged the immigration policy changes of five administrations, from the near-ban on Central American and Haitian asylum claims under President Reagan to the increased immigration enforcement that earned President Obama the nickname “deporter in chief.”

Still, nothing could prepare HIRC for the Trump administration, which has escalated detentions and issued a flood of new directives aimed at deterring refugees and immigrants from coming to the U.S. For years, Anker advocated to get gender-based violence designated as grounds for an asylum claim, ultimately working with the government to issue historic guidelines that set the stage for similar measures internationally. Then in one fell swoop, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision in 2018 that attempted to rewrite asylum law to prevent people fleeing gender-based and gang-based violence from getting protection in the U.S. at all.

“We’ve got a real fight on our hands,” said Anker, who wrote the seminal book on asylum law. “But we’re up to the task.”

HIRC has been in overdrive, challenging everything from the intentional separation of thousands of families to the closing of the southern border for the vast majority of asylum seekers.

In addition to direct representation, staff and students are filing appeals in federal court on issues such as gender-based asylum and immigration detention; conducting policy advocacy on everything from sanctuary cities to solitary confinement in detention; and filing amicus briefs that challenge asylum bans and Immigration and Customs Enforcement courthouse arrests. They’re leading Know Your Rights trainings all around Greater Boston. And they’re staffing a Harvard-funded initiative, created in 2017, that provides immigration and legal support to any member of the Harvard community.

“In a constantly changing legal landscape, we’re working as hard and as fast as we can to meet the need,” said Ardalan. “It’s encouraging to know so many of our alumni are out there, doing the same thing.”

Indeed, HIRC alumni are working all across the immigration field, from government to academia to private firms to advocacy organizations. In interviews with several, they framed their work as urgent and necessary—both harder than ever and extremely fulfilling. They also described HIRC as an essential training ground, not only for learning the legal basis of the work, but for understanding the care and compassion it takes to do it well.

Here are a few of their stories.

Brianna Rennix ’18

Staff Attorney, Dilley Pro Bono Project, Dilley, Texas

In a small trailer, surrounded by hundreds of other trailers, encircled by a fence, in the middle of South Texas scrubland, Brianna Rennix does her work. Sometimes it takes 12 hours. Sometimes it takes more. At some point each day, she leaves the largest family detention center in America, drives five minutes through the small town of Dilley, and settles in to work some more at home.

Read more about Rennix »

 

Mark Fleming 97

Partner and Vice Chair, Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Practice, WilmerHale, Boston

Five cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Twenty-two years of work as a lawyer. And still, Mark Fleming will never forget the woman from Congo, the first client to trust him with her life.

Read more about Fleming »

 

Geehyun Sussan Lee ’15

Appellate Counsel, Center for Appellate Litigation, New York City

There was a time, not too long ago, when the courthouse was a safe space for Sussan Lee’s clients. Of all the obstacles they faced as immigrants charged with a crime, they did not have to worry about the walk to the courtroom. They did not have to worry about getting the opportunity to present their case.

Read more about Lee»

Gianna Borroto ’11

Senior Attorney, National Immigrant Justice Center’s Federal Litigation Project, Chicago

Gianna Borroto began her career working mostly with unaccompanied minors. representing young people in their claims, often from start to finish. Then something shifted. “Under this administration, seeing all the policy changes and how they were directly impacting my clients, I felt like I needed to do more to create change on a broader level,” she said.

Read more about Borroto»

 

DHS Bid To Collect Social Media Info Sparks Privacy Concerns

Via Law360

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security‘s proposal to collect social media handles from foreign citizens has been met with backlash from civil rights and higher education groups that caution it will chill free speech and discourage international students from studying in the U.S.

DHS had indicated in September that the department planned to begin asking for information on foreign citizens’ social media accounts for the past five years on visa applications and traveler forms, opening its proposal up for public comment through Nov. 4.

But in dozens of comments filed over the following two months, national civil rights and legal and immigrant advocacy organizations, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association and American Civil Liberties Union, have urged DHS to withdraw that proposal, warning that it could suppress protected free speech and promote self-censorship.

“The proposed rule may pressure applicants to engage in self-censorship like deleting their accounts, disassociating with online connections, limiting their social media postings, or sanitizing their internet presence for fear of reprisal,” more than 40 organizations wrote in comments on the proposal.

This would affect not only foreign citizens seeking immigration benefits, like green cards, or considering a visit to the U.S., but also the American citizens who communicate with them online, the groups said.

“Consider, for example, how an American citizen who wants her brother in Iraq to visit or emigrate might think twice before posting tweets criticizing U.S. policy or remaining Facebook friends with someone who does,” the organizations wrote.

Their joint comment is one of 80 filed responding to DHS’ proposal to collect the additional information under President Donald Trump’s March 2017 executive order to ramp up screening and vetting practices.

The U.S. Department of State, which processes visa requests made from foreign citizens looking to move to the U.S. from abroad, already requests this information, after updating its forms in June.

DHS’ proposal would authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection to request social media handles from any foreign citizen entering the U.S.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes visa petitions from within the U.S., would also ask for social media handles on permanent residency applications, applications for U.S. citizenship, and asylum and refugee applications.

Social media accounts that foreigners would need to disclose include Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, TwitterLinkedIn, MySpace, Reddit and YouTube. Vine, a video platform that was shut down in 2017, is included on the list, while TikTok, a newer short-video platform, is not listed.

DHS could not, under the proposal, request passwords for social media accounts. Immigration officers also may not follow or friend request users to gain access to private account information.

But the ACLU and other organizations argued that this will nonetheless undermine the ability to communicate anonymously online, which could be important for political activists or members of the LGBTQ community who hail from countries where they may not be safe to identify themselves publicly.

In its own comments, the New York City mayor’s office also raised privacy concerns, saying that it is “committed to upholding privacy protections for New Yorkers irrespective of their citizenship or immigration status.”

The Harvard Law School Immigration Project and Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program flagged a recent incident that made national news when a Palestinian student at Harvard College was denied entry to the U.S. because of political messages posted by his “friends” on social media, even though he had not posted any political messages on his own account.

“This example illustrates the potential dangers of the department’s proposed policy,” the school’s immigration clinic wrote in their comment. “If noncitizens can be denied admission or an immigration benefit based on their friends’ social media activity over the past five years, many would likely refrain from engaging in associational activity freely on social media or even from using social media at all — which in turn would seriously and impermissibly burden their First Amendment right of free association.”

The National Association for College Admission Counseling, the American Council on Education and other higher education associations also warned that the social media collection would deter foreign students from attending American universities.

It would likely also “further strain” USCIS’ resources, one group of education associations said, referencing recent work authorization processing delays for the Optional Practical Training program, which gives foreign citizens who just graduated from U.S. universities one extra year to live and work in the U.S.

“The goals of protecting our security while ensuring that the United States remains the destination of choice for the world’s best and brightest students, faculty and scholars are not mutually exclusive,” the associations wrote.

A DHS spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

–Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

A Cuban Escape: A Daughter’s Admiration

Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

I wanted to intern at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) so much that it was the only internship I applied for as a law student during my last year of law school. I know it was a risky move, but thankfully, I got lucky. My time at HIRC has been illuminating. I have actively participated in the asylum process for multiple clients, drafted motions, conducted client interviews, and have visited multiple immigration court hearings. However, nothing has made me happier than being able to for the first time witness an asylum trial and listen to the judge say “I am granting your stay of asylum.” Hearing the judge utter those words, and seeing the client’s tears of joy, keeps assuring me that I am on the right field, and reminded me of my father – who escaped from Cuba and spent nine days in the ocean to seek asylum in the United States.

My father is my light, my rock, my hero. He and his story have influenced my life in so many powerful ways – so much, I decided in middle school that I would attend law school to become an immigration lawyer. I am happy that the day has come where I have the opportunity to put on paper all my thoughts and feelings with respect to his migration, in addition to some of the many details about his journey from Cuba to the United States.

June 3, 1970, is a date that will forever have a place in my heart. On that day, my father embarked on his journey through the Gulf of Mexico in a raft. My father wanted to leave the country, but there was no possible way that he could do it legally. For that reason, he decided to leave his loved ones behind, and take on a decision that could have meant his life.

Imagine leaving absolutely everything you have – your hometown, your family, your roots, your country – and taking only with you the memories of your childhood, six glass bottles of water, one bottle of rum mixed with coffee, and a knife for protection. Those are the exact things my father took with him when he embarked on his oceanic journey. It takes a great deal of inner and mental strength to take this step. Nevertheless, this explains my father today; he is the strongest and most optimistic person I know. I can say this with so much certainty: I have never heard my father complain, never. He finds light in every situation.

My father’s journey started with a plan between him and a group of his friends. After the plan went awry, he decided to build a raft from the inner tube of a truck and to flee Cuba by ocean. Not all of his friends accompanied him. Only one did – one brave soul who is in heaven. His friend, Alfredo, embarked on the journey with him. My father does not know much about Alfredo. He knows that Alfredo needed to leave Cuba because of the political situation at the time. He served two years in a Cuban concentration camp and his father was a pilot for Cubana de Aviacion, which is a national airline based in Cuba since 1929. Alfredo, however, did not make it to land. He died on the seventh day of their journey– only two days before my father was rescued. When he died, my father kept Alfredo’s body next to him.

They say people could survive without water for about three to four days. My father survived nine days adrift. On the third day in the middle of the Gulf, my father and his friend lost their most precious belonging – the only glass bottles of potable water that they had taken with them. At this point, my father’s desperation only grew, but so did his faith. He told himself that he was not going to let that loss keep him from going forward, and so he kept rowing. My father had and still has a strength unlike any other, a strength that had its roots and was built on hope. The power of such hope was key to his survival.

With no tools to fish, no potable water, and for obvious reasons no readily accessible means to any sort of aliment, my father had to look for any possible means and take any possible action to survive. This is the one part of his journey that if I had to describe verbally, it would be very painful for me to verbalize. I am simply of the belief that no one should be able to endure such experience. It breaks my heart that my father did. He had to use a bird as sustenance. I do not think I would have the gut, or even the mental ability to do something similar, even while being in that situation. But perhaps I would, I am my father’s daughter, and I like to think that I would be as strong as he was. Alfredo, my father’s friend, caught the bird and they both ate parts of it. My father ate the bird’s heart. To this day, my father still holds his tears when he describes this part of his journey, and there have been times when my father feels the taste of the bird’s heart in his mouth.

On June 11, 1970, his ninth day adrift, was the day my father thought to himself, “Today, I die.” However, it became the day my father was rescued in the Gulf of Mexico. An American merchant ship saved him. On the day of his rescue, my father who was 19 at the time, was skin and bones, on the verge of death. He was so severely dehydrated that the ship’s personnel could not merely give him large amounts of water. His body could not handle that. Instead, they had to immerse cotton in water and place it softly on his lips. Eventually, the merchant ship transferred him to a U.S. Coast Guard ship, which docked on June 12, 1970, at 12:01 a.m. – my father remembers that day and time clearly. June 12 was the day he was “born again,” as my father enthusiastically describes it.

My father still lives with the memories of his past. Those memories have become a part of him, a part of his foundation. I remember my father taking me to the beach when I was a little girl, and I would see him throw a dozen red roses to the ocean. I always questioned why he did this, but I did not ask questions. When I became old enough, he explained. He has done that every June 12 for the past forty-nine years, to honor the memory of Alfredo, his friend who died before the rescue. My father’s rescue was a miracle. My father was surrounded by sharks on that day. The raft was also already sinking. The U.S merchant ship saw him at exactly the right time and at exactly the right place.

This story likely resonates with those who flee their country looking for sanctuary in the United States. Today, my father is a successful business owner, and has also dedicated a lot of his life helping minority classes. I will be forever grateful to HIRC for trusting me and allowing me to actively participate in the asylum process of its clients, and, most importantly, for allowing me to be a part of bringing light in the lives of those who have been in the position of my father – those who have had no choice but to flee their country, leaving behind their family, their roots…and their lives.

This post was written by Giselle M. Rodriguez, a former HIRC summer intern. She is a law student at the Massachusetts School of Law. 

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.