Posts Tagged ‘pro-se’

Guilty as Suspected

December 21, 2009

After listing off his numerous legal options over the phone and across the plexiglass, Fidencio looks right at me and says, “Yo quiero salir. Quiero regresar.”  I translate to the Minnesota Detention Project attorney that he simply wants to leave, to return home.  She explains briefly that this will result in a ten-year bar to his re-entry, that it will be very difficult for him to get back in again.  Fidencio shuffles his feet, chains jangle, and he crosses his arms across his orange County prison jumpsuit.  “No importa, I just want to get out. I can’t stay another week at Ramsey. Every day I stay in here I cannot make money for my family.  Just get me out ahora.”

And so another father and husband is deported back to Honduras, his family left here to continue living in the shadows or to return to a country with little opportunity.  About 8,000 people in Minnesota are currently in deportation proceedings, and some 200 to 300 are housed in one of five county jails where Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) rents space.  The Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul typically houses 50-75 detainees, most of whom do not have any criminal conviction and are merely suspected of illegal entry.  They share residence with indicted murderers, rapists, burglars, and drug addicts.  Since most county jails are designed for one-night stays, few have outdoor yards and, as a result, detainees rarely see the light of day.  At Ramsey County, detainees are incarcerated an average of 100 days.  Most immigrants, by the time their day in Immigration Court finally arrives, will argue their case pro se before the Court and simply beg the judge to deport them back to their country of citizenship. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR]

The number of immigrants detained each night in the United States is roughly 32,000.  Many of that number have not been convicted or even charged with a crime but are, according to ICE, a flight risk.   Immigrants represent the few civil court defendants incarcerated in such a way.  Despite the obvious flight risk of certain delinquent fathers awaiting judgment on child support or traffic offenders awaiting their day in court, few other civil defendants are held in jail at all, let alone for months on end.  Although anklet transponders are used by parole officers in oyhrt areas of law, ICE has so far rarely used such minimal safeguards for supposedly “innocent until proven guilty” immigrants, opting instead to pay $80/night for a total of $1.8 million/year. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR].

Anklet Transponder

Nationally, the housing and transfer system is so haphazard that some detainees are moved to a new detention facility without ever being served a notice detailing why they are being held.  From 1999 to 2008 some 1.4 million detainee transfers occurred, often moving longtime residents of New York and LA to remote jails in Texas or Louisiana, far away from friends, legal counsel, or evidence for their immigration case.  These detainee transfders typically send immigrants to the Fifth Circuit, the most hostile jurisdiction toward immigrants and the worst ration of immigration lawyers to detainees.  [Bernstein, Nina. “Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed. NYTimes].

This week, Rep. Gutierrez from Illinois introduced the first of a new wave of comprehensive immigration reform bills, this one entitled C.I.R. A.S.A.P.  As Congress wraps up healthcare debates and begin to take up the issue  Obama shelved until 2010, any comphrensive bill must seek to alleviate and remedy the current system of criminal detention of civil immigrant cases.

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El Paso del Mundo

January 6, 2009
Las Americas Asylum Law Project

Las Americas Asylum Law Project

El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than Houston, closer to three other state capitals than its own, 12 hours from Brownsville, Texas.  It is part New Mexico, part Tejano, part Mexico, part Wild West, all frontera.  With a population of 700,000 and separated from a 1.5 million city by a tiny rivulet called the Rio Grande, El Paso melds with Juarez in culture, language, music, food, and la gente.

11 University of Minnesota Law School students arrived in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, January 4. We came as part of the Asylum Law Project to volunteer with nonprofit groups such as Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, and Las Americas Advocacy Center.  We came to volunteer, but as always, we assuredly will gain more than we give.

Our first day in El Paso, we attended immigration court and saw the inside of a client interview room.  The immigration court was informal, the judge joking about Burn after Reading and giving informal history lessons about Ellis Island.  The hardest cases were the pro-se ones, where we had to watch a 19-year-old boy with oversized clothes sit silently in front of the judge as he was told he had to wait for the LA judge to reopen his case.  Beside him, a Korean man was whispering prayer upon prayer, eyes closed.  Inside the interview room, the circle chairs and the square table were stainless steel.  A woman from El Salvador had been transported from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Arizona to Houston to El Paso.  Her son was watching her younger children and attending Stanford, and this meeting was to gather some last-minute details so that she could apply for a change of venue.  The steel room was empty and echoed, her small voice enunciated each word of Spanish thoughtfully and deliberately.

That same day, we were told by numerous attorneys and well-meaning citizens not to venture across the bridge to Juarez.  Granted there were more than 1,600 murders in Juarez in 2008 and a group of hueros would generally attract a lot of attention; however, it is that same sort of terror that has depressed the economy on both sides of the river and has lent credence to the drug dealers and thugs like the Zetas.  It is that same fear that led Congress to pass the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the same fear that drives Bill O’Reilly’s ratings, the same fear that enables shows like ABC’s “Homeland Security USA” to exist.  As we crossed the El Paso del Norte Bridge and were greeted by the smell of tacos al pastor and the sight of cheap meds and fast surgeries, none of us felt threatened.  Even as we walked by the federales with their automatic rifles and teenage faces, it was impossible to see much of a difference between one side of the river and the other.  We watched Texas beat Ohio State for the Fiesta Bowl as we sat in the Yankees bar, across the centro from the Kentucky Bar where Marilyn Monroe bought drinks for everyone the day she divorced Arthur Miller.  Both sides of this river are hopelessly interconnected.

We are staying in the Gardner Hotel/El Paso International Hostel, a hotel from the 1920s that has hosted John Dillinger and Cormac McCarthy. An old PacBell phone booth stands sentry at the doorway, and an old-time telephone switchboard stands next to the check-in booth.  With its high ceilings and transoms, old charm and new faces daily, many languages and few rules, this hostel is as good a metaphor for El Paso and Juarez as one can imagine.

Tonight we visited Casa Anunciacion, an immigrant safe house.  Dreamed up by 5 Christian men more than 30 years ago, this organization operates in the historically most impoverished portion of El Paso.  It serves as a home for immigrants, whether for one night or for 8 months.  Families, abused women, single teens, mothers and babies, fathers – the house is full to the brim with immigrants seeking shelter and a change.  This particular night Juan Carlos cooked dinner for all 55 tenants and all 11 of us.  We sat next to immigrants from Guatemala and Sinaloa, El Salvador and Lebanon, Juarez, and Honduras.  After dinner, I washed dishes alongside Federico as everyone worked together to clean the facilities.  Although the house was raided by ICE several years ago, it still continues to offer hope to many seeking a better job and life.

The border towns of El Paso and Juarez serve as a microcosm of worldwide immigration patterns.  When goods are freely transportable in a globalizing world, it only stands to reason that people will desire to move freely legally or not.  Border lines are human conventions, and as one looks at the picnic cloth of stars between the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains that is El Paso/Juarez at night, it is impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.  Perhaps that would just be a perfunctory exercise anyway.