Hope for the Innocent Child Victim

Hope for the Innocent Child Victims

No one talks about the confusion. The brief moments between the realization that this is, in fact, happening, that the person who was once safe is safe no longer. The seconds stretch into hours, sometimes years, as familiar hands that once went about their daily business of working, comforting, eating, suddenly become weapons designed to wound, inflict, beat, and molest, and they’re aimed at you. It is a magic trick of the worst kind, and one that grievously harms children who will, over time and repetition, come to expect nothing but terror and harm from not only their abusers, but the entire world.

When Kendrea and Antonio’s bonds of trust were broken, they were in a position of perfect vulnerability. After the Honduran President was ousted from office in 2009 by a military coup, Honduras’ civic and economic life collapsed, leaving its citizens to welter in poverty and chaos while the government scrambled to reassemble itself and retain power. In the wake of this structural catastrophe, Honduras became the country with the highest murder rate in the world, and its population began to flee for countries with more stability. Kendrea and Antonio’s parents followed the outgoing tide and left for the U.S. so that they could send money back to Honduras to financially support their children. Kendrea and Antonio were left with their grandmother, and, for a while, all seemed well.

The shift in their grandmother began a few months after the children came to stay, and at first they couldn’t understand why she had become so volatile and moody, why she had begun hitting them without cause. Kendrea and her brother believed that if they could be more obedient, perhaps less seen and heard, that their grandmother would stop hitting them, but their dedication to acquiescence made no impact as their grandmother began striking them with any object that was available; shoes, belts, and books all became part of her arsenal. When their parents would call, their grandmother would hold the phone so that they couldn’t speak out against her or tell what their lives had become. She stifled them, and reinforced their newly made prison.

When their grandmother began dating Cesar, he was already a fugitive; known to be dangerous and activitely pursued by the police, he moved in with them quickly and began raping Kendrea almost immediately. After the first time, Kendrea hoped that it would be the last, but this wasn’t the case. Despite her attempts to avoid the home and stay out of his way, Cesar began to reinforce his violence with threats, telling her that he would kill her if she told anyone about the abuse. He threatened Antonio with the same fate. The death threats became their tipping point, and the children, aged thirteen and eleven, fled the home and made their way to the United States where they, with the help of pro bono legal agency Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, were reunited with their parents and baby sister.

They arrived in Texas at a time of great increase in unaccompanied child refugees, when the number of apprehensions between 2015 and 2016 had shot up by 78%. In 2016 alone, 27,754 unaccompanied minors were detained at the Texas border. The majority of these children are from what is known as Central America’s Northern Triangle, which consists of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, all nations that have in recent years been ground down by unrest, high crimes rates, and poverty. The inrush of these children has precipitated expansion programs by the United States Customs and Border Protection agencies, which have widened the categories of asylum seekers eligible for refugee status in the U.S., focusing on children and families which contain qualified children.

Even with this new flexibility, former Homeland Security Secretary Johnson stated, “Border security alone cannot overcome the powerful push factors of poverty and violence that exist in Central America. Walls alone cannot prevent illegal migration.” This has played out in recent years with sharp, continual increases in refugee seekers, particularly children traveling alone. This is where Texas agencies like Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, or HRI, step in. When Kendrea and Antonio arrived in the U.S., they were placed in removal proceedings before the Dallas Immigration Court with one opportunity to apply for asylum status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before their hearings. As children without legal representation or financial means, HRI walked them through the legal hearings, filings, and processes, and ensured that they had a legal team working for their benefit each step of the way. Though they didn’t receive decisions on their cases until April of 2017, both children won their cases due in large part to the dedicated and pro bono work of this legal team.

Without the non-profit assistance of lawyers and legal advocates, children like Kendrea and Antonio would have escaped horrendous personal and environmental circumstances only to face a closed door, condemning them to a life without family, home, provision, or safety. Hemmed in on all sides, they would have been returned to their violent, unstable origins to await whatever outcome fate had set aside for them, and all of this would occurred behind closed doors in the complex and shuttered settings of the U.S. immigration systems. Now that Kendrea and Antonio have been granted asylum by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, HRI has filed for joint motions for their removal proceedings to be terminated.

With the national political tide turning against immigration and the numbers of asylum seekers continuing to increase, stories like Kendrea and Antonio’s have become more and more common. Despite these challenges, advocates like HRI are working throughout the country to give shelter to the most vulnerable global citizens. As Bill Holston, Executive Director of HRI, has stated, “There are so few things that people seem to agree on now. But surely one of those is that no child should suffer acts of abuse and violence. We are proud to be a part of obtaining safety, refuge, and security for children here at HRI.” In the coming months and years of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration reforms, the hope for vulnerable and courageous children like Kendrea and Antonio rests in the hands of organizations which believe just that.

-Kelsey Capps, Contributor, HRI Committee Member

Mylène Wins Asylum!

Mylène Wins Asylum!

After many years of enduring the oppressive and corrupt Burundian government, Mylène decided to join the opposition party, Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (“MSD”).  MSD fought for unity and an end to division based on ethnicity. While attending a peaceful protest one day, Mylène and many other protesters were attacked by the local police force. She managed to flee the protest safely.

The following day, upon arriving to her business, she found many police officers rummaging through her office. Mylène was targeted by the ruling party because she was a member of the opposition party and because she owned a travel agency which served various clients, including opposition leaders. The officers demanded a list of names of the clients that Mylène served. When she refused she was detained, interrogated and sexually assaulted. After waking up in the hospital the next day, Mylène fled with her three children to Rwanda and later to the U.S. Many of her friends and family members have been tortured and killed due to their affiliation with the opposition party.

Mylène and her three children are now safely living here in the U.S. Thanks to our dedicated pro bono attorneys and staff, less than two years after entering the U.S., Mylène and her children have won asylum!

Finding Freedom: A VAWA Story

May 31, 2017

 

 

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” ― Toni Morrison

 

My story is more common than we’d like to think. I, like many other women, consider myself to be intelligent, strong, and independent. I saw myself as the princess in the fairytale, having finally found my happily ever after. However, when your self-esteem is at it’s lowest, happily ever after isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. For me, happiness was having found someone -anyone -who would “love” and accept me.

For many years I thought that my abuser’s actions were my fault. I couldn’t see myself living without him and so his controlling and dangerous behavior was something I had learned to accept. In retrospect, I know that I did not choose that abusive relationship, but at the time I believed it was all my fault. Everything was great between my ex and I. We were in love. We were happy. But then suddenly we weren’t. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that my fairytale turned into a horror movie; that holding hands turned into sprained and bruised wrist; that going out as a couple turned into me being isolated and home alone for days at a time; that laughing turned into crying. Everything was always my fault and because my self esteem was so low, I believed it.

One day he pointed a gun at me after I’d found his hidden stash of rifles. My ex had convinced me that if I hadn’t been snooping around in my own house, he wouldn’t have had to aim a gun at me. Every time I mustard up the strength to leave, my ex would convince we that immigration would be on my heels. He made me believe that there was no help for people like me -abused and undocumented -and I believed him. When I first met my ex, I considered myself to be a smart, strong, and independent woman. It seemed as if he had taken those things from me. Many years passed before I self-identified as a victim of domestic violence. But one day I did and I found the courage to leave.

My ex stole everything that belonged to me, leaving me with just the clothes on my back. There was a period after leaving him that I still had my doubts. “What if I was making the wrong decision?” I thought. “Maybe he didn’t actually mean to hurt me and it really was just my fault”. I invented excuses to justify his behavior. Victims of domestic violence often remain in abusive relationships out of shame. I recently learned that the number one driving force for those leaving abusive relationships is knowing that there is legal help. I found a friend who I could confide in. I ended up sleeping on her couch and having to quit my job. My ex would continue to threaten me for quite some time. He would call, text, and even email me. I thought about going back, but I refused to become a victim once again.

I found Human Rights Initiative, an organization that not only helped to guide me on what to do with my legal case, but also one that listened to my story without judgment. I was so embarrassed to share my story, but they reminded me that I was no longer a victim -instead I was now a victor! I received legal relief through the Violence Against Women Act. HRI helped me to find my voice. It’s been nearly a decade since I left my abusive relationship. It was so hard to let go of the fear, depression, and hatred I held on to. I am not perfect and some days it is still a struggle. But I’ve decided that both myself and the world deserve the best version of Adriana that I can give.

Today I am a successful small business owner and I am married to my best friend. This is true freedom. This is my happily ever after. I know for a fact that every time I share my story there is a chance that maybe some voiceless woman will be encouraged to speak up for herself and to find her happy ending too.

-Adriana E., Former HRI VAWA Client

Kenia & Antonio

Kenia & Antonio

HRI won the asylum cases of two Honduran siblings, Kenia and Antonio.  After their parents left for the U.S. in order to provide for the children financially, the children lived with their paternal grandmother in Honduras, who frequently physically and emotionally abused them.  Their grandmother kept such a close watch on the children when they spoke with their parents that Kenia and Antonio were unable to tell their parents about the despite regular communication. In addition to abusing the children herself, Kenia and Antonio’s grandmother began dating man named Carlos. Carlos eventually moved in with the children’s grandmother. He was known to be dangerous and actively pursued and raped Kenia twice. Carlos threatened to rape Kenia a third time despite Kenia’s attempts to distance herself from the dangerous domestic situation. Carlos told Kenia he would kill her if she told anyone about the abuse and he made the same threat to her brother, Antonio, after he learned what Carlos had done to his sister.  In 2015, the children fled to the United States alone at the 13 and 11. They have since reunited with their parents and baby sister.

As unaccompanied minors who were designated as unaccompanied alien children (“UAC”), the children were placed in removal proceedings before the Dallas Immigration Court, but they had an opportunity to have their claims heard by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) first.  The children were interviewed by the same asylum officer in October 2016 within a few months of filing their asylum applications.  However, they did not receive decisions on their cases until April 2017.  Ultimately, both children won their cases, thanks in large part to extremely dedicated and thorough pro bono representation. Now that they have been granted asylum by USCIS, we are waiting on the immigration judge to grant our joint motions to terminate removal proceedings.

-Mary Durbin

* We have changed our client’s name to protect her privacy

HRI Wins Asylum for Adeleh*

March 2017

HRI won an asylum case for an Iranian woman, Adeleh,* who has been our client for over 7 years.  Adeleh converted to Christianity and when she told her husband, he beat her, locked her in the house and threatened to report her to the government. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is a crime in Iran and she could have faced arrest or torture. Eventually Adeleh escaped and came to the United States on a visa, looking for protection. We helped her apply for asylum in 2010 but the Houston Asylum Office sent her case to an Immigration Judge.

Adeleh’s trial took place in Dallas Immigration Court in February and April of 2011. The judge did not issue a ruling until May 2012, when he denied her claim, stating that he did not find her credible. HRI and her pro bono lawyer, David Staber from Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, immediately appealed the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA agreed with us that the judge failed to use the proper credibility standard, and in July 2014 remanded her case back to the judge for him to reconsider his decision.

The judge did not set Adeleh’s case for another hearing until March 2016. Prior to that hearing, we asked lawyers from the Department of Homeland Security to review the case. They agreed that Adeleh qualified for asylum so we filed a joint motion asking the court to grant asylum.  Even though both parties concurred that Adeleh qualified for asylum, the judge denied the motion. We filed an interlocutory appeal, which is an appeal that is not from a final judgment, with the BIA. In December 2016, the BIA ordered the Dallas Immigration judge to grant Adeleh asylum. Finally, in March of 2017, the judge followed the BIA’s instructions and signed her asylum order. Adeleh is thrilled that this odyssey is behind her and hopes to petition to bring her children to the United States. She and HRI are extremely grateful to David Staber and Akin Gump for their perseverance and dedication in this difficult case.

-Christine Mansour

* We have changed our client’s name to protect her privacy

What Will Happen to Mateo & Josephina?

The Robbery 

Mateo* was working at a cell phone store in early 2011 when a man entered acting like a regular customer. After the other customers left, however, he brandished a sawed-off shotgun in Mateo’s face and demanded money.  The assailant took Mateo’s laptop and phone, and threatened to kill him if he called the police. Undeterred, Mateo called 911 when the thief left. It turned out that this man had robbed several other stores and the Dallas police needed Mateo’s help. Mateo, who was brought to the United States when he was six and had no legal status at the time, gave a statement to police and identified his attacker from a photo lineup.  Police caught the criminal.  The district attorney charged him with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.  Then Mateo testified at the trial and the man was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Cooperation

This type of cooperation between undocumented immigrants, and others in immigrant communities,  is threatened due to an Executive Order on immigration that President Trump signed January 25 and a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo from February 20, 2017 implementing it. The implications of this executive order, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” are just starting to be felt, as reports of increased immigration raids around the country become more frequent.  This executive order dramatically increases the scope of immigration enforcement, to equate convicted felons with those who have never committed a crime, and seeks to force local law enforcement to collaborate with federal deportation officers.

The cooperation of immigrants with local law enforcement is a crucial part of community policing. Mateo’s story is one of hundreds we have heard at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI) in our work with U Visa applicants. The federal government created the U Visa because law enforcement realized that immigrant victims and witnesses to lawbreaking often are fearful of reporting those crimes, cooperating with police and testifying in court due to a fear of deportation.  The U Visa incentivizes and rewards immigrants for reporting serious offenses and assisting in the prosecution of criminals. To qualify for a U Visa, law enforcement must certify that that applicant helped them with the case. Applicants must also show that they suffered mental or physical trauma due to the crime, that they will continue to assist law enforcement with whatever is needed, and that this help furthers U.S. goals of protecting immigrant victims of crimes.

New Administration

Mateo applied for a U Visa and is waiting for one to become available to him, since only 10,000 are granted a year. But this type of cooperation is now in serious jeopardy as fear looms in immigrant communities based on the new government policies and recent raids. In the week leading up to February 13, 2017, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) reported that it had arrested 680 people for immigration violations. While ICE claimed these were routine roundups and not part of a new effort on its part, President Trump tweeted that this was part of his new plan to get tough on immigrants.

Indeed, the executive order and DHS memo on Interior Enforcement contemplate a large deportation force detaining and ultimately deporting thousands of immigrants, regardless of their criminal history.  Under President Obama, ICE was instructed to prioritize for arrest serious felons, recent entries and people who had been previously deported. The new executive order does not focus on serious criminals but instead lists – without prioritizing anyone – all the different types of people who can be picked up. This includes anyone who is suspected of ever committing a crime, even without a conviction. Thus, an alleged jaywalker is now considered the same priority as a murderer for ICE to find, detain and deport.  Deporting families and long-time residents takes the same precedence as removing serious criminals.  This is striking fear in the hearts of many immigrant families.

The executive order and DHS memo also propose several partnerships with law enforcement that would deputize local police to enforce immigration laws.  Local governments are often opposed to these associations because they want to focus on preventing and solving crimes; they are too busy and it is not their role to enforce immigration laws. Prior programs that affiliated federal immigration with local law enforcement were widely criticized and led to costly lawsuits due to abuses including increased racial profiling and a lack of oversight.

Abused 

These policies make our communities less safe.  They will make it much more difficult for law enforcement to obtain cooperation from immigrant victims and witnesses to crimes. Our client Josephina* was able to put her abuser behind bars because she trusted the police would help her despite the fact that she was undocumented.  She was in a relationship with a U.S. Citizen who physically and emotionally hurt her. When she tried to leave him, he attacked her, pushing her against a wall and punching her face and head several times with his fist. Josephina was able to get away and called the police. She prosecuted him for assault and he was found guilty. She also has applied for a U Visa.

Mateo, Josephina & HRI 

We need people like Josephina and Mateo to feel safe calling the police, reporting crimes and helping with the investigation and prosecution. At HRI, we are concerned that these new government policies will undermine our security by equating all immigrants with dangerous criminals and breed distrust between immigrants and the police we rely on to keep us safe.

*All names have been changed.

CHRIS MANSOUR, APPELLATE & ADVOCACY DIRECTOR

Over 560 Organizations Call on DHS and ICE to Ensure Immigrant Survivors of Violence Can Access Safety and Protections

March 8, 2017

The Honorable John F. Kelly

Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Ave.

NW, Washington, D.C. 20016

 

The Honorable Thomas Homan

Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

500 12th St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20536

 

Dear Secretary Kelly and Acting Director Homan:

 

We, the undersigned 563 organizations who support, serve and/or advocate on behalf of immigrant survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking, oppose the Administration’s executive orders on immigration and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) February 20, 2017 implementation memos, which fail to protect immigrant victims of crime, reduce the likelihood of immigrant victims or witnesses reporting crimes, empower traffickers and abusers, contravene existing protections afforded by law, and create unprecedented fear for immigrant families and communities.

Congress created the U and T visa programs in 2000, as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, to “strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking…and other crimes…committed against aliens, while offering protection to victims of such offenses in keeping with the humanitarian interests of the United States.”1 Congress also created the VAWA self-petition in 1994 recognizing that abusive spouses often use a victim’s immigration status as a tool of power and control. Furthermore, Congress also created important VAWA confidentiality provisions to prevent abusers from using the immigration system as a way to maintain power over survivors.2 The recent executive actions and DHS guidance seriously undermine critical protections created by VAWA to increase victim safety and encourage immigrant victims and witnesses of crime to cooperate with federal, state and local law enforcement to ensure public safety.

These executive orders and implementing memos send a dangerous message to immigrant communities, namely that reaching out for help will likely result in deportation. Human traffickers, perpetrators of sexual assault, including sexual abuse in the workplace, and domestic abusers prey on vulnerable immigrants, and often threaten their victims that seeking assistance from the police or courts will result in survivors’ deportation. There is no clearer example of this danger than the recent arrest of Ms. Gonzalez in the courthouse in El Paso immediately after she obtained a protection order against her abuser.3 When these threats are realized, they have a significant and widespread chilling 1 See section 1513(a)(2)(A), Public Law No: 106-386, 114 Stat. 1464. 2 See 8 USC 1367, INA 239(e). 3 Associated Press. “ Texas officials say ICE detained immigrant inside courthouse” Washington Post February 16, 2017 Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/texas-officials-say-ice-detained-immigrant-insidecourthouse/2017/02/16/4849b328-f4a6-11e6-9fb1-2d8f3fc9c0ed_story.html?utm_term=.9cdaa3aec333 2 effect and drive immigrant victims further into the shadows. The executive actions thereby empower criminals and undermine the ability of federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute these criminals.

Furthermore, the increased entanglement between local and state law enforcement authorities and immigration enforcement authorities called for in the executive orders and implementing guidance will exacerbate survivors’ and witnesses’ fears that calling or cooperating with the police may result in their removal or detention, and separation from their families. The orders undermine decades of community policing efforts to build relationships and trust with immigrant communities and revives programs that have been discredited, largely due to these concerns. Advocates around the country report that they are uncertain how to advise immigrant survivors about what will happen if they call the police or go to court. This undermines the Congressional findings in VAWA 2000 that all women and children who are victims of crimes [including domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking] “in the United States must be able to report these crimes to law enforcement and fully participate in the investigation of the crimes committed against them and the prosecution of the perpetrators of such crimes.” 4

In addition, refugees and those arriving at our borders who are fleeing or recovering from sexual and domestic violence, stalking or human trafficking, as well as individuals from the countries impacted by the refugee/travel ban, face increased barriers to their safety. The increased delays, explicit bans, and the possibility of being sent for processing to a contiguous country create uncertainty and the real danger of harm, jeopardize the ability of victims to access safety, and exacerbate the trauma they have experienced.

We call on DHS to recognize that immigrant communities deserve safety and justice. DHS must also clearly articulate to the public that anyone, regardless of immigration status, can access protection in our court systems; that they will follow and strengthen prior ICE guidance, procedures and programs that protect survivors; and that they will ensure ICE policies and procedures do not deter survivors from accessing critical protections, which only undermines public safety for all.

 

Read Full Letter Here

Immigration Courts Re-prioritize Cases

 

On January 31, 2017, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) issued a memo re-prioritizing the immigration cases before it. Prior guidance declared that cases involving serious criminals, recent arrivals, repeated immigration violators, unaccompanied minors, and recently-arrived families with children had to take precedence over other cases. This had resulted in 2014 in many children’s cases being placed on a “rocket docket” that made it extremely difficult for children to find attorneys or put together their cases, even when they had legal relief.

The new EOIR guidance indicates that non-citizens in detention and unaccompanied children who do not have a sponsor are priorities to be deported. On the positive side, this means unaccompanied minors and families who have been released from detention will not be subject to fast-moving dockets and will have time to find a lawyer and prepare their cases. However, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI) has several major concerns with the new EOIR priorities. Children who arrive to the United States alone and do not have a close relative here with whom they can live – among the most vulnerable people coming to the United States – could be subject to almost immediate deportation under this memo.  HRI has represented these children since 2010 by providing them with attorneys while they live in long term foster care. These children almost always have legal relief in the United States due to protections that help immigrant children who have been trafficked or abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents. These cases can be complex and the children need help to navigate the court and immigration systems. Detaining them and prioritizing them for deportation before they have been placed in foster care is inhumane and likely violates their due process rights. Most detention facilities are hundreds of miles from major cities so these children are unlikely to find lawyers or other needed social services. Without lawyers, these defenseless children could be sent back to dangerous or deadly situations in their home countries.

The same holds true for asylum-seekers. A separate executive order and a recent memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security state that immigrants arriving at our border will be either turned around and sent to Mexico to await a court date or detained for the entire time their cases are pending. This EOIR memo then prioritizes these cases of detained individuals. While it is possible that asylum-seekers who pass a credible fear interview will be released, it appears they will not be released unless they can present all their evidence or legal theories to prove their case.  Detaining all these people and fast-tracking their cases is expensive, inhumane and violates U.S. and international law. If detained, asylum-seekers will likely not have an attorney – only 14 percent of detainees found legal counsel from 2007-2012 – to assist them in presenting often complex asylum cases. People fleeing persecution should not be rushed through the deportation process. Instead, our system should focus on serious criminals and people who threaten our safety and national security. There is a very real threat that these recent DHS and EOIR memos will result in detention centers turning into deportation mills.

Finally, the immigration courts already have a huge backlog, and these recent government memoranda will make them less efficient, further stressing judges and giving them less time to assess cases effectively and fairly. The plans anticipate hundreds of thousands of immigrants being detained and fast-tracked for deportation, but there are not enough immigration judges right now to handle the existing caseload. EOIR has not been able to fill all its open immigration judge positions, and studies have shown that an additional 150 judges are needed to get through the current backlog. But no more judges or support staff can be hired right now due to the federal hiring freeze.  Adequate support staff is needed to ensure the courts run smoothly.  For example, in Dallas there are now just six support staff at the immigration court, which has six judges and over 11,000 pending cases. With over 500,000 immigration court cases on the dockets nationwide, the reshuffling of case priorities will focus on deporting those with the least ability to defending themselves – children, asylum-seekers and other detained immigrants, without giving the courts the resources to adequately evaluate and process their claims.

 

 

Christine Mansour, APPELLATE & ADVOCACY DIRECTOR

 

The Muslim Ban #NoBanNoWall Pt. 1

Update on Executive Order Blocking People from Seven Muslim Nations from Entering the United States

On Tuesday evening the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument as they considered whether to lift a national block on the Trump administration’s executive order banning people from seven countries from entering the United States and halting our country’s refugee program. On Friday a lower court in Washington state halted the ban, allowing refugees and individuals from these countries to be admitted to the United States. The government filed an emergency appeal over the weekend, which was rejected. The Ninth Circuit requested more briefing and arguments, so the parties filed briefs on Monday and presented their cases Tuesday afternoon at a telephonic hearing. The Ninth Circuit has indicated that they will probably make a decision this week. For now, refugees and people from these countries are allowed to enter the United States. Once the Ninth Circuit makes a decision, the case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The controversy started two weeks ago when President Trump signed an executive order that prevented refugees from entering the United States for 120 days and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely. The order also prohibited people from seven Muslim majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering the United States for 90 days. This created widespread confusion at airports here and abroad as officials struggled to determine if the ban applied to dual nationals and legal permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) who hold passports from these countries. At least 60,000 foreigners had their valid visas cancelled due to the ban.

After several days of conflicting interpretations, the Department of Homeland Security indicated that the ban did not apply to people with U.S. green cards. However, the ban did apply to people with student, work and visitor’s visas, leaving many people who live, study and work in the United States stuck abroad in limbo. Several challenges to the executive order were filed in courts across the country. Friday’s ruling in Washington was the first to issue a nationwide injunction of the ban. Other cases are still pending.

Another area of confusion was how the executive order applied to people from the seven counties who are already in the United States and applying for immigration status such as asylum or green cards. Last week there were reports that in some areas of the country, USCIS offices were halting adjudication of these applications. On Friday, separate from the litigation, the USCIS director issued a memo clarifying that the ban does not apply to these immigration petitions. The Dallas Field Office indicated that it has been processing these requests as usual while waiting for more guidance. In addition, the USCIS memo indicates that the executive order does not affect people outside the United States whose applications do not directly confer travel authorization, such as someone who is eligible for a green card but applying from outside the United States. Thus, it appears that currently, if the court reinstates the ban, it will prevent people from the seven countries from entering the country or receiving a visa to travel to the United States, but it will not stop them from receiving other immigration benefits for which they are eligible.

Human Rights Initiative of North Texas opposes all policies that adversely impact its clients and other asylum seekers seeking protections from the United States.

-Christine Mansour

Are We Still That Nation? The #MuslimBan

Do you remember 9-11? Of course. Extremists who claimed to be acting as Muslims committed a senseless act of terror. Thousands died. Do you recall what President Bush said about Muslims days afterward?

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.  That’s not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.  These terrorists don’t represent peace.  They represent evil and war.”

When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.  Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace.  And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.

America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.  Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.  And they need to be treated with respect.  In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

This is what leaders do. The react with dignity restraint and compassion.

Last  Friday evening President Trump signed another in a series of far reaching and xenophobic executive orders. He titled this one: EXECUTIVE ORDER: PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES

Make no mistake it doesn’t do that. In fact it does the opposite, while betraying the most fundamental values we hold as Americans

The Order states:

“….the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred ….the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own….,”

…and then commences to do that very thing as official policy of our country. Three of the executive orders on so-called “border security” do a lot of things that I find really troubling, but I want to just discuss a single issue: it discriminates against Muslims. The executive order “suspends new refugee admissions for 120 days, and blocks travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia — for 90 days. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.” http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/31/512678699/trumps-immigration-order-is-not-a-ban-on-muslims-homeland-security-chief-says  These are all Muslim-majority countries, so clearly the impact will be on Muslims. Then to make its intent even clearer it creates an exception for those who are religious minorities from those countries, a thinly veiled exception for Christians.

I have personally represented Christian asylum seekers for years, and advocated for their rights. I have gone to Immigration court for Iranian, Eritrean, Egyptian, Pakistani and Turkish religious asylum applicants.  I know what harm Christians fear in places without freedom of religion. So with that in mind, please know I absolutely OPPOSE a policy of giving Christians preference in refugee admissions. We should continue to follow international law and provide refuge for those fleeing violence and persecution without discrimination.

I was once asked what motivated me to help persecuted Christians. I replied, my motivation wasn’t their faith it was mine. As a Christian I’m interested in welcoming strangers, and that has and will continue to include Muslims, and atheists for that matter.

This preference for Christian refugees is opposed by many Christian leaders because of its discriminatory purpose. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/29/us/christian-leaders-denounce-trumps-plan-to-favor-christian-immigrants.html

The discriminatory purpose of this order has been admitted by certain advisors to the administration. According to the Atlantic:

His close adviser, Rudy Giuliani, told Fox News in a live interview that the executive order Trump just signed sprang from a committee Giuliani formed for the specific purpose of constructing a Muslim ban in a way that would pass legal muster! https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/what-conservatives-get-wrong-about-the-executive-order/514940/

While the ban is on its face temporary, the head of Homeland Security, Kelly “said for the first time that the some of the restrictions that caused confusion and sparked protests over the weekend could be extended well into the future. ‘Some of those countries that are currently on the list may not be taken off the list anytime soon,” he said.’ “ http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-trailguide-updates-1485885194-htmlstory.html

Finally, this executive order makes us less safe. A large group of foreign service professionals have pointed out that bans like this play into the ISIS narrative that the United States is anti-Muslim.

We as a country have welcomed refugees in the past. A few months ago, I was giving a talk, and someone asked me, ‘We have all these people. They are a different religion. They don’t speak English and they have no money. What do we do about that.’ I replied, “If you drive a few miles from here you’ll see miles of Vietnamese restaurants and grocery stores and everything you just said applied to them. Our embrace of hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians in the aftermath of the Viet Nam War is a great tribute to what our values are as a country.  We are still that nation, aren’t we?