What Will Happen to Mateo & Josephina?

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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?

5 Rules for Being a Great Volunteer Attorney

 

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

 

 

 

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:

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  • 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.