5 Rules for Being a Great Volunteer Attorney

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Nine years into working for Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a nonprofit, has allowed me to see quite an array of lawyers and lawyering.  Almost all lawyers I have worked with want to do good for the community taking on pro bono cases with the best of intentions, despite their grueling workload.  Here are some of my observations on what distinguishes the mediocre pro bono relationship from the superb.

1. KNOW THYSELF

Think about your goal before signing up to take on a volunteer case.  Do you want to learn a new area of law?  Feel compelled to help a certain population, such as veterans, the ill, the elderly, children, immigrants, or others?  Want to be in Court?  Solely want transactional work?  There are opportunities out there abound, so make sure you pick something that you feel invested in.  That way, you will care about the case and your client’s success automatically.

2. GET TO KNOW YOUR CLIENT

Keep in mind that you are likely the first interaction your client has had with an attorney- make it a positive one!  Try to not scare them with complicated legal talk and instead start the relationship by getting to know them as people- where they came from and what makes them tick, what hobbies they may have, their hopes for the future, etc.   Let them know why you felt compelled to help them.  I’ve had many clients comment to me over the years that they didn’t realize that fancy big law offices were real- they had only seen office like that on TV.  You may take your nice office with a receptionist for granted, but many clients can be intimidated by it.

3. DON’T TAKE ON MORE THAN YOU CAN REALISTICALLY HANDLE

Things happen, but know what kind of commitment you are signing up for.  I try to give all of our volunteers an estimate of hours and timeline before they take a case.  Be realistic with what you can juggle and do a good job on.  If you need to bring on help, do it sooner rather than later.  If a big project or case comes up, let the agency you are working for and your client know as soon as you do.  Odds are as long as you are honest, the relationship with the legal service provider and the client will be fine and alternative arrangements can be made.

4. IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE LAW, PARTNER WITH SOME WHO DOES

If you feel lost, ask.  All legal services organizations should have mentors or attorneys to answer your questions.  If they don’t have someone that can help if you get stuck, then don’t sign up unless you know the nuances of the practice area.  When I send over a case, I give our attorneys a manual as well as sample filings.  Then, I review anything they would like a second set of eyes on.  I also go with volunteers to court if they aren’t comfortable.  You should never be “winging it” with pro bono work.

5. BE RESPECTFUL OF TIME

Pro Bono clients are just as inpatient as any other type of clients.  Maybe even more since they haven’t had many other legal interactions.  There can be a tendency to put these files on the backburner, but you need to treat them just like all other clients for responding timely and prosecuting their case.   Even if it is a 1 minute email or phone call saying there are no new updates, make it a priority to be responsive.  Set a realistic timeline when you first meet with them and try to stick to it.

 

Melissa Weaver, Women & Children’s Program Attorney

 

 

 

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?

Dallas Judge’s Grant Rates Lower Than National Average

Dallas Judges Rarely Grant Asylum

A recent review of asylum decisions reveals that the grant rates for Dallas immigration judges in asylum cases is much lower than that for many other cities and the national average.  And the rate has been trending down over the past few years.

According to the most recent report from the nonpartisan Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC),[1] the Dallas immigration judges denied asylum in 78.9 percent of all cases in the 6 years from fiscal years 2011-2016.[2]  Put another way, asylum-seekers in Dallas Immigration Court had about a 1 in 5 chance of winning their case.  This compares to a grant rate of about 50 percent (1 in 2) for the rest of the country over that same time period.[3]  That grant rate is trending downwards both in Dallas and in the rest of the country.  In FY2016 alone, the asylum grant rate nationwide decreased to 43 percent.[4]  The government reports that Dallas judges granted asylum in just 9 percent of all cases in FY2015, the last year for which the government has released information.[5]

The local judge with the highest denial rate is Deitrich Sims.[6]  In the last six years Judge Sims decided 251 asylum claims on their merits.  He granted 17 and denied the rest, for a grant rate of 6.8 percent.  This is the 29th highest denial rate nationwide. Based on the figures in the report, it appears Judge Sims denied close to 100% of all asylum claims he heard in FY2016.

The judge with the highest recorded grant rate over the past 6 years in Dallas no longer works here.  Judge Michael P. Baird transferred to the Atlanta Immigration Court in late 2015. From 2011-2016 he decided around the same number of asylum cases as Judge Sims but granted almost a third, 30.7 percent.  However, in 2015, the last year for which numbers are available for Judge Baird, he denied over 90 percent of claims.

Since 2011, Judge Wayne Kimball has heard the most asylum cases in Dallas.  He decided almost 400 cases, and granted a little over 20 percent of them.  However Judge Kimball denied almost 90 percent of asylum cases last year.

Finally, Judge Richard Ozmun decided 313 asylum cases from 2011-2016 and denied 245 of them.  This is a grant rate of 21.7 percent and a denial rate of over 78 percent.  Judge Ozmun’s denial rate for the last 2 years has been over 90 percent.

These numbers show that it is more difficult for asylum-seekers to be successful in their cases in Dallas as compared to other parts of the country.  For example, asylum seekers in New York City were granted asylum 82 percent of the time; asylum seekers in San Francisco and Boston were granted asylum in about 60 percent of cases and the grant rate in Arlington, Virginia was 70 percent.  The grant rates in Houston (15 percent) and San Antonio (33 percent) are also lower than national averages.[7]

There’s an Explanation

Part of the reason the Dallas judges have such low grant rates is based where the asylum-seekers in their courts come from.  All four Dallas judges in the report heard the most cases for individuals from El Salvador, with Honduras coming in second for all of them but one, for whom cases from Mexico came in second.  Asylum cases from Central America and Mexico are notoriously difficult to win, since many of these people are fleeing gang violence, which is not recognized as a basis for asylum in most of the United States, or domestic violence, which is a developing and controversial area of asylum law.

Asylum-seekers in Dallas also are less likely to be represented by an attorney in their case. Not having a lawyer makes it exponentially more likely that an asylum-seeker will lose.  Nationwide, judges denied asylum to over 90 percent of unrepresented individuals.  This shows why having an attorney is crucial to asylum-seekers, yet 18.7 percent go unrepresented across the country.  That number is much higher in Dallas, which probably contributes to the low grant rates here.  All of the Dallas judges had a higher percentage of unrepresented asylum-seekers on their dockets – ranging from Judge Sims’s court, where 28.4 percent of asylum-seekers did not have a lawyer – to Judge Baird, who heard almost half of his asylum cases (44.9%) from unrepresented individuals.  Judges Kimball and Ozmun also heard claims from unrepresented asylum-seekers at a rate much higher than the national average (37.7 and 37.4 percent, respectively).

Another reason for the disparity between asylum grant rates in Dallas and the national average is the amount of discretion immigration judges are given.  Several studies have concluded that asylum outcomes are increasingly dependent upon the identity of the judge assigned to the case.[8] The individualized TRAC reports bear this out, showing a wide disparity across the country in asylum grant rates, as well as within individual courts.

Our Work

Human Rights Initiative of North Texas continues to be successful in obtaining asylum for our clients despite the obstacles facing us in the Dallas immigration courts.   But these numbers demonstrate how truly challenging the work is here.

 

Christine Mansour

CHRISTINE MANSOUR, APPELLATE & ADVOCACY DIRECTOR

E-MAIL: CMANSOUR@HRIONLINE.ORG

PHONE: 214-273-4340


 

[1] TRAC is a data gathering, research and distribution organization at Syracuse University. It collects and studies records from different government agencies and provides comprehensive information in areas such as immigration, including statistics like the number of total cases by location, case results and types of cases “The purpose of TRAC is to provide the American people — and institutions of oversight such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers — with comprehensive information about staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government.” http://trac.syr.edu/aboutTRACgeneral.html

[2] See, e.g., http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00036DAL/index.html (“In the Dallas Immigration Court  . . . judges denied asylum 78.9 percent of the time.”). All the reports on the Dallas judges include this language.

[3] Id. (“nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 49.8 percent of asylum claims.”).  According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the office in the Department of Justice that oversees the Immigration Courts, the grant rate from FY2011-FY2015 averaged 51.6%, although it has trended downwards over the past two years to under 50 percent.  https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb15/download, p.K1. The EOIR report does not include FY2016.

[4] http://trac.syr.edu/whatsnew/email.161213.html

[5] https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb15/download, p.K2.

[6] The TRAC report only includes Immigration Judges who decided at least 100 asylum cases between FY 2011 and FY2016.  Thus, it does not include three immigration judges currently working in Dallas.  Judge James Nugent has been in Dallas for several years but does not have enough asylum cases on his docket for his numbers to be reported by TRAC.  Judges Daniel Weiss and Xiomara Davis-Gumbs are new judges who just started this year and have not decided enough cases to be included in the study.

[7] See http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00147NYC/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00088SFR/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00016BOS/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00001WAS/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00416HOU/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00061SNA/index.html.

[8] Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, “Asylum Outcome Increasingly Depends on Judge Assigned,” (2016)  http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/447/?utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=RP%20Daily; Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz and Philip G. Schrag, “Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication,” 60 Stanford L. Rev. 295 (2007).

Call to Action: #StopSessions

 

On Tuesday, January 10th, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin holding hearings to confirm Trump-appointee Jeff Sessions as the U.S. Attorney General. Human Rights Initiative of North Texas opposes the appointment of Jeff Sessions.  We ask that you join us today and call your Senators and let them know you oppose this appointment which will be dangerous for immigrants as well as many others.

Take action today to #StopSessions. Call your Senators and let them know you oppose this appointment.

Here is a sample script for when you call:

“Hello, I am a constituent and I urge the Senator to vote against Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General. I am concerned that he would not protect the rights of all people, particularly immigrants. I am troubled by his long record against civil and human rights, and worried his policies as Attorney General will harm my family, friends, and community. Please vote against his confirmation.”

Texas Senator’s Contact Information

John Cornyn
972-239-1310
(202) 224-2934 –DC Office

Ted Cruz
(214) 599-8749
(202) 224-5922 –DC Office

Other states find your Senators here

 

HRI opposes the appointment of Sessions for several reasons. Here’s why:

.
  • He has a long and troubling history of anti-immigrant votes in the Senate. As Attorney General he will be in charge of our nation’s immigration courts as well as immigration regulations and how immigration laws are interpreted and implemented. He could change asylum laws, make it more difficult for immigrants to bond out of detention and eliminate programs that provide legal orientation to those in immigration court. Given his well-documented anti-immigrant views, this would be dangerous to our clients and all who are impacted by U.S. immigration law.
  • He has opposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) a cornerstone of our country’s protections for survivors of domestic violence, including immigrant survivors.
  • Sessions is also specifically opposed helping women and children fleeing Central America.
We cannot allow a man who has consistently voted against immigration reform and has publically called for draconian restrictions on all immigration to the United States to head our nation’s immigration court system and to be responsible for defending the civil rights of the people of this country. Call your Senator, share this email and #StopSessions TODAY! Local impact starts with you.

 

Human Rights Groups Release Statement of Eligibility Requirements for Top Administration Officials

Washington, D.C.—As President-elect Trump continues to announce his selections for top positions in the new administration, 21 of the nation’s largest human rights and faith organizations today released a joint statement of principles regarding the eligibility of nominees for Senate-confirmed positions. Today’s statement outlines key requirements of top administration officials that should be evaluated by the Senate during confirmation hearings, including adherence to the U.S. Constitution and adherence to the rule of law.

“It is critical that the Senate demands that all individuals nominated for cabinet positions demonstrate that they intend to honor the constitution and U.S. human rights obligations. The future of America’s role as a beacon for upholding human rights protections and the rule of law hangs in the balance,” said Human Rights First’s Sharon McBride.

“Those nominated to serve in a Trump Administration will hold critical positions affecting millions of people’s human rights. It’s crucial that they commit to upholding this country’s obligations under international and U.S. law. The U.S. cannot hold moral high ground and will never be seen as leader on human rights if it flouts these obligations at home,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

“The team that the leader of the free world assembles must reflect the highest ideals underpinning our nation—both adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights. CWS affirms the importance of a rigorous benchmark of eligibility principles for those nominated to top posts in the incoming administration. We urge the Senate to weigh these standards prudently during their confirmations. The very course our country will soon take depends on it,” said Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service.

The joint statement reads as follows:

As President-elect Trump undertakes the process of selecting his cabinet members and other high-ranking administration officials, it is imperative that nominees support the U.S. Constitution, embody American ideals of inclusion and respect for all individuals, uphold our democratic processes and institutions, and respect our nation’s human rights obligations. While each of the undersigned organizations has additional priorities and will respond to the incoming administration accordingly, we all believe that potential cabinet members and senior administration appointees should adhere to the following principles:

Adherence to the U.S. Constitution

Nominees for Senate-confirmed positions who support taking actions or enacting policies that are objectively unconstitutional, and especially provisions designed to undermine individual liberties and equal protection under the law, should be deemed unsuitable for those positions by the Senate. An example of such an action would be implementing a ban on people of a specific faith entering the country or advocating policies that violate the civil rights or liberties of any particular group of people.

Adherence to the Rule of Law and Human Rights Obligations

Nominees for Senate-confirmed positions who support taking actions or enacting policies that would violate U.S. laws or international conventions protecting human rights to which the United States is a signatory should be deemed unsuitable for those positions by the Senate. A willingness or desire to order the use of torture would fall into this category. The same standard for unsuitability would also apply to any nominee who has previously been involved in authorizing or implementing human rights or civil liberties violations.

Signatories for today’s statement organized by Human Rights First include Alliance for Citizenship, Amnesty International USA, Brooklyn for Peace, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Center for Victims of Torture, Church World Service, Human Rights First,, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, National Council of Jewish Women, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, North Carolina Stop Torture Now, Peace Action, Peace Action Bay Ridge, Presbyterian Church (USA), The Advocates for Human Rights, USC International Human Rights Clinic, UUSC: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Voices for Progress, Win Without War, and Women’s Action for New Directions.

For more information or to speak with the statement’s signatories contact Christine Mansour at cmansour@hrionline.org.or  214-855-0520.

NSEERS Coalition Letter

November 21, 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The undersigned nearly 200 civil and human rights, civil liberties, education, social
justice, and inter-faith organizations write to urge your Administration to take
immediate action to rescind the regulatory framework behind the National Security
Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS). The NSEERS program has been found
to be ineffective as a counter-terrorism tool, has resulted in tremendous harm for
individuals who were directly affected, and has disrupted relationships with
immigrant communities.

Created in the wake of September 11, 2001, NSEERS targeted foreign nationals
from 25 countries based on religion, ethnicity, and national origin. NSEERS was a
discriminatory policy that ran counter to the fundamental American values of
fairness and equal protection. Rescinding the regulatory framework of the program
will ensure that our nation does not target communities based on national origin and
faith in the future.

NSEERS dealt a significant toll on the families and communities directly affected
by it. The “call-in registration” part of the program targeted certain males from 25
primarily Arab, Muslim-majority, African, and South Asian countries, as well as
North Korea and Eritrea, and required them to appear at local immigration offices
for fingerprinting and interrogations.

See CNN report here. 
In the wake of NSEERS, more than 13,000 men who complied with the program
faced deportation charges. Families were torn apart, small businesses in immigrant
neighborhoods closed their doors, and students discarded their educational
aspirations. One person affected by NSEERS was Mr. D, a 19-year-old athlete from
Algeria who came to the United States on a student visa to play tennis at Western
Michigan University. As a foreign student, Mr. D was subject to NSEERS as a
condition for study in the United States. Due to a car accident, Mr. D complied with
NSEERS one day past the deadline. Although medical documents were available to
show the circumstances of the one-day delay, the local immigration office charged
Mr. D with failure to comply with NSEERS and placed him in removal proceedings.
Mr. D’s story is just one of tens of thousands of people affected by NSEERS.

Government officials have questioned whether the NSEERS program was an
effective tool to combat terrorism. James W. Ziglar, former commissioner of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, has asked: “The question was, ‘[w]hat
were we going to get for all of this? The people who could be identified as terrorists
weren’t going to show up. This project was a huge exercise and caused us to use
resources in the field that could have been much better deployed.’”

In April 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) took a positive step
by de-listing the countries under the NSEERS program. This development
confirmed that “DHS seeks to identify specific individuals and actions that pose
specific threats, rather than focusing on more general designations of groups of
individuals, such as country of origin.” Intending to discontinue the NSEERS
program, the de-listing notice stated firmly “DHS will no longer register aliens
under NSEERS effective on April 28, 2011.”

Nevertheless, the regulatory structure for NSEERS remains intact. As organizations
that represent diverse communities and that are committed to civil and immigrant
rights, we firmly believe that removal of the NSEERS framework is a necessary
imperative. We ask the Administration to immediately take steps to remove the
regulatory structure of NSEERS and stop any future use of the program.
Thank you for your attention. We look forward to hearing from you. For additional
information, or to schedule a meeting, please contact Mr. Abed Ayoub of the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), aayoub@adc.org, or at
202-244-2990.

Sincerely,
18 Million Rising
Adelante Alabama Worker Center
Advancement Project
Advocates for Youth
African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA)
African Services Committee, Inc.
Alianza Americas
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA)
America’s Voice Education Fund
American Center for Outreach
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Immigration Council
American Muslim Advisory Council

Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
API Equality – Northern California (APIENC)
Arab American Association of New York (AAANY)
Arab American Institute (AAI)
Arkansas United Community Coalition
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian American Psychological Association
Asian American Writers’ Workshop
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Asian Law Caucus
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance & Institute for Asian Pacific American
Leadership and Advancement
Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations
Austin Jewish Voice for Peace
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Brooklyn Defender Services
Casa Esperanza
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
Center for American Progress
Center for APA Women
Center for Community Change
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for New Community
Center for Popular Democracy
Center for Social Inclusion
Center for Sustainable Justice
Chinatown Community Center of Detroit
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Church World Service
Common Defense
Communities for Just Schools Fund
Community Health Consulting Services
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
Compassionate Fremont
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Council on American-Islamic Relations Greater Los Angeles Area
Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center
DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence
DC-Maryland Justice for Our Neighbors

Detention Watch Network
Dreamers Moms
DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving
Durango Unido en Chicago
El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
EmergeUSA
Fair Immigration Reform Movement
Families for freedom
Farmworker Justice
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Florida Coastal School of Law Immigrant and Human Rights Clinic
Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC)
Franciscan Action Network
Free Migration Project
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees
Georgia Muslim Voter Project
Global One to One
Global Ties ABQ
HIAS
HIAS Pennsylvania
Human Rights First
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
IABAT (Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association of the Triangle)
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Imam Hussain Islamic Center
Immigrant and Refugee Resource Village of Albuquerque
Immigrant Defense Project
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Immigrant Rights Clinic of Washington Square Legal Services
Immigration Center for Women and Children
Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants
Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity
Iranian American Bar Association
Islamic Education Center, Potomac, MD
Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
Jakara Movement
Japan America Society of New Mexico, Inc.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
Justice Strategies

Korean Resource Center
Laotian American National Alliance
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Long Island Immigrant Alliance
Lutheran Family Services
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Make the Road New York
Mi Familia Vota
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
MoveOn Civic Action
MPower Change
Muslim Advocates
Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)
Muslim Bar Association of Southern California
Muslim Community Center of Chicago
Muslim Community Network
Muslim Justice League
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development
(CAPACD)
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Employment Law Project
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC)
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Organization for Women (NOW)
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

National Religious Campaign Against Torture
NC Stop Torture Now
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
New Mexico Asian Family Center
New Mexico Women’s Global Pathways
Next Wave Muslim Initiative
North Carolina Justice Center
Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
OneAmerica
Pangea Legal Services
Pars Equality Center
Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center
Pioneer Valley Progressive Muslims
Progressive Interfaith Alliance
Project South
Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)
Quaker House of Fayetteville NC
Race Forward
Reformed Church of Highland Park
Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Refugee Well-being Project
Restore The Fourth
RootsAction.org
Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)
Service Employees International Union
Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN)
Sisters of Mercy South Central Community
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
South Asian Bar Association
South Asian Network (SAN)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Southeast Immigrant Rights Network
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
STAND: The Student-led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
St. John United Church of Christ
Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Sikh Coalition
Triangle Chapter Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois
United Voices for America
UPLIFT
VietUnity – Bay Area
Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights
Washington Peace Center
WeCount!
Women’s Refugee Commission
X-Lab
Ms. Margo Schlanger – former DHS Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
(affiliation listed for informational purposes only)
Ms. Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia – Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Clinical
Professor of Law, Penn State Law: University Park (affiliation listed for
informational purposes only)
cc: Jeh Johnson, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Coalition

HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE’S 2016 ANGEL OF FREEDOM AWARDS

HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE’S 2016 ANGEL OF FREEDOM AWARDS

 

Dallas, Texas (November 10, 2016) – Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI), a nonprofit agency in Dallas, has announced the recipients of their prestigious 2016 Angel of Freedom Awards: Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, InterNations Dallas Volunteer Group, and John Schwartz. The awards will be presented at the HRI Thanksgiving Event on Tuesday, November 15th at Sidley Austin.

These three recipients have made significant contributions, enabling HRI to better serve its clients and to advance the organization’s mission. The generosity of these award-winners has made a profound difference in the lives of many immigrants living in North Texas.

angel-freedom-award2

 

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP

For many years, Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has been an important pro bono partner with HRI. In early 2015, Gardere’s Dallas office reached out to HRI to see how they can help serve the hundreds of Central American unaccompanied minors who were being relocated in the North Texas area. HRI was overwhelmed by the number of children who needed legal representation, and Gardere was one of the major pro bono players in helping us serve this vulnerable population.  In the last two years, Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has donated hundreds of hours to HRI clients and we are so grateful.

Beverly B. Godbey, HRI volunteer and partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP says, “When we heard about the hundreds of unaccompanied minors streaming into Texas from Central America, Gardere decided to take on their representation as a firm-wide pro bono project.  HRI generously provided the training, guidance, forms, professional assistance and mentoring to help us rescue dozens of children, some as young as three years old.  HRI’s work is life-changing, and Gardere is thrilled and honored to receive this amazing award, but the real winners are the children.”


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InterNations Dallas Volunteer Group

InterNations is the largest international community for people who live and work abroad. InterNations Dallas is comprised of over 6,000 expats, 500 of which belong to their Volunteer Group. In 2013, Human Rights Initiative officially became a non-profit partner of InterNations Dallas Volunteer Group. Since then, this group has organized multiple fundraisers, clothing and toiletry drives, employment workshops, and holiday parties for our clients. The InterNations Dallas Volunteer Group pours their heart into each of these projects, tailoring each to fit the needs of our clients and best serve our agency. We are so grateful for their passion and their commitment to the clients of HRI.

“By orchestrating over $4.7M of pro-bono legal support each year, assisting over 550 individual clients annually through the multi-year immigration process, and providing all its services for free, HRI continues to make a very significant difference in the lives of foreigners who are fleeing violence and seeking safety through legal immigrant protections here in Dallas. The InterNations Dallas Volunteer Group would like to thank HRI for this award and for the opportunity it provides to offer our international members the ability to support a cause that is dear to our hearts being also away from our homelands. InterNations Dallas feels privileged to partner with HRI and is humbled to be a recipient of the Angel of Freedom award.” states the InterNations Dallas Volunteer Group Consul/Leadership team.


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John Schwartz

John Schwartz began his volunteer work with Human Rights Initiative in 2007.  In that time John, senior counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright, has represented multiple asylum seekers from countries like Nepal, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Pakistan.  In the past nine years, John has donated nearly 1,000 hours to HRI clients.  His dedication to asylum-seekers and HRI is unparalleled. Thank you John.

Jonathan Skidmore, partner –in-charge at Norton Rose Fulbright’s Dallas Office, was thrilled to hear about John’s Angel of Freedom Award. He stated, “We are very proud of John’s work with Human Rights Initiative and his remarkable effort on behalf of those in need of asylum assistance. Like many of our lawyers, John realizes that without the assistance of volunteer attorneys, HRI’s clients will face almost certain persecution or worse in their home countries. Norton Rose Fulbright attorneys like John are privileged to be able to use their knowledge and skills where we can make a meaningful difference.  Thank you for recognizing John’s contributions.”

Underwriters for the event include: AT&T, Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP, Gibson Dunn Crutcher, Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank LLP, Elise Healy & Associates, Greg Curry, SMU Legal Clinics and Steve Ladik.

About Human Rights Initiative
Human Rights Initiative (HRI) is a nonprofit providing free legal representation and social services to indigent victims of human rights abuses and to serve as a community resource on human rights issues. Human Rights Initiative’s clients include victims of human rights abuses seeking asylum in the United States, victims of human trafficking, victims of spousal or child abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident, men, women and children who are the victims of a violent crime, immigrant children who flee from violence and travel to the U.S. alone, or immigrant children that have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents in the U.S.

 

Contact: De’Jonnae Boyd

Phone: 214.855.0520

Email: dboyd@hrionline.org

The Heart of Darkness

October 28, 2016

 

congo

the Congo

When Francis Ford Coppola wanted to write a nightmarish screenplay about the war in Vietnam, he looked for inspiration in Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness. The novel is based on Conrad’s early 20th century experience exploring the Congo. It paints a bleak picture of this beautiful area of the world. He then moved the theme to Viet Nam and created Apocalypse Now

At Human Rights Initiative we have been representing asylum seekers from the Congo for our entire 16 year history. Among my earliest asylum cases in the early 1990’s were asylum cases when the country was still known as Zaire, during the reign of Sese Mobutu, more about him later. What is it about this place that has caused it to experience so much heart ache? These modern human rights tragedies do not spring from the air. There is historical context.

 

Historic Context

The first use of the phrase, “crimes against humanity”, was by the African American minister and journalist, George Washington Williams, in criticizing the policies of Belgian King Leopold in what was then called The Congo Free State. [1] The Congo Free State was essentially the personal possession of King Leopold and resulted in the misappropriation of millions of dollars in natural resources from the people.

ED Morel in his book titled Red Rubber detailed the atrocities committed by King Leopold in his exploitation of the people of the Congo region, to obtain the tremendous natural resources of rubber and ivory. These atrocities included seizure of land, torture, dismemberment and systematic killing. Morel, along with Roger Casement began what became one of the earliest human rights campaigns in history: the Congo Reform Movement. This movement contained-one of the earliest uses of photography as a tool in a human rights work, as Christian missionaries utilized early Kodak cameras to record the results of torture. These photos showed the physical scars of torture, and graphically illustrated what King Leopold’s atrocities looked like.  In addition, literary figures like Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle brought their talent and notoriety to bear to raise awareness of these atrocities. Most estimates are that millions of Congolese died, in what some have defined as a genocide, although one not widely known. In 1908, as a result of the intense international press, the Congo became a Belgian colony, and known as the Belgian Congo.

 

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The Congo became independent in 1960 after over 50 years of Colonial oppression, and finally held free elections. Patrice Lumumba became the first democratic leader of the new nation, and one of the earliest in sub Saharan Africa. Unfortunately he ran into the reality of Cold War politics.

“A dramatic, angry speech he gave …brought Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, left the king startled and frowning and caught the world’s attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous.” Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.” (Hothschild, 2011)

 

This sort of talk was bound to irritate the European powers. In addition, when the West agreed to Congolese requests for assistance, Lumumba made overtures to the Soviet Union. This sealed his fate. With the acquiescence, if not active support of the CIA, Lumumba was abducted, tortured and assassinated. This created an opportunity for a Congolese Army colonel, Mobutu Sese Seko to seize power. Mobutu became a Cold War ally of the United States. He maintained a firm and despotic grip on power for the next 30 years. Mobutu’s theft of resources was at a vast scale.

“The corruption in Zaire is legendary. The “kleptocracy” has its roots in the nineteenth century Congo Free State: Belgium’s King Leopold II used profits from the export of the country’s extensive natural resources to build a personal fortune — profits extracted under conditions of forced labor that included killing workers and chopping off hands if quotas were not met. Mobutu’s ill-gotten wealth is usually estimated at around $5 billion. Stories about his bank accounts in Switzerland and his villas, ranches, palaces, and yachts throughout Europe are legion, as are wide-eyed descriptions of his home at Gbadolite, in northern Zaire, his birthplace; “Versailles in the jungle,” it is called.”  (Berkeley, 1993)

Mobutu maintained power by ruthless means. I personally represented multiple asylum applicants from Zaire, the new name Mobutu gave the Congo. All of them told stories of torture and rape at the hands of the brutal security forces.

 

A very present past

Why would the West tolerate this despot? Our cold war policies and Congo’s vital mineral wealth led us to support what was clearly an authoritarian and hugely corrupt government.

“The tremendous mineral wealth of Shaba, with 80 percent of the world’s cobalt reserves and 20 percent of its copper supplies, helped Mobutu secure international military and financial support. The West, and Washington in particular, also had been using Zaire as a weapons supply and staging area for support of the anti-communist Unita rebel movement fighting the Marxist government in Angola.’  (French, 1997)

 

With the end of the cold war, Mobutu outlived his usefulness to the West, and aid began to dwindle. In the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebel armies invaded Zaire. Mobutu finally was driven from power and replaced by Joseph Kabila, whose son now leads the country. In the resulting instability and war, which has been characterized by widespread and systematic rape, over 5 million people have died.

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William Faulkner, the great Southern American Author wrote:

“The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past”.

This is quite relevant to the Congo. What is the context to the human rights abuses that occur there today? This context includes decades of human rights abuses by European powers, over 100 years of exploitation of the tremendous natural resources, and the active interference with democratic development to further western interests. Does this absolve modern day Congolese from responsibility? No. However, it does mean that the West should be prepared to patiently assist in a meaningful way with the development of this country. Often I see the rhetorical question asked about refugees, “Why is this our problem?” Well other than our obligations under international law and our moral responsibility, there is a certain level of responsibility that flows from the fact that we had a hand in the destabilization of the Congo.

There are many signs of hope. One of my friends, Celestine Musekura’s faith based NGO, ALARM, takes teams of lawyers and other volunteers to the Congo and other African Countries to conduct trainings in ethics and peacemaking. It’s an innovative and wise start and they see a lot of progress.

At HRI, we continue to see a lot of people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (renamed after the fall of Mobutu). They share some traits: they are educated and passionate people who were willing to risk everything to make their country a free and prosperous country -and for that they are repaid with torture and imprisonment. They’ve left everything behind and have come to the United States because they believed that in the U.S. we stand for democracy and civil liberties. They have much to offer our country, because without exception, they respect the American ideals of freedom and opportunity. And it’s up to us to welcome them with open arms -to prove that we deserve the confidence that they place in us. Let’s earn their respect.

I’ve just scratched the surface of this fascinating and interesting country. I haven’t even mentioned the rich literary and musical culture of the Congo. For instance, Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s book Tram 83 was on the long list for the Man Booker prize this year.

-Bill Holston

Further reading

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo by Michela Wrong

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason Stearns

 

References

Berkeley, B. (1993). The Atlantic Monthly; Zaire: An African Horror Story; Vol 272, No. 2; pages 20-28.

French, H. W. (1999). New York Times International; Anatomy of an Autocracy: Mobutu’s 32-Year Reign; https://partners.nytimes.com/library/world/africa/051797zaire-mobutu.html.

Hochschild, A. (1998). King Leopold’s ghost: A story of greed, terror, and heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.