December 12, 2016 – At a press conference today, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, along with HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, reiterated that Houston – the most diverse city in the country – is a welcoming and safe place for all who live here.

“The Collaborative supports the Mayor’s commitment to create and uphold policies that assure the safety and well-being of all Houstonians,” says Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) Legal Director Andrea Guttin.  “As a key partner in the Welcoming Houston initiative, HILSC is working to ensure that the legal and social needs of the immigrant and refugee communities in Houston are met.”

Houston is a city of immigrants.  Their history is deeply rooted in our city.  They are our neighbors; they run many small businesses and work in all of Houston’s diverse industries; they are the families at our schools, churches, temples and mosques. One out of every four Houstonians was born outside of the United States.  Attacks on immigrants and other marginalized communities are attacks on working Houston families.  HILSC applauds the Mayor’s pledge to protect everyone – whether Latino, Black, LGBTQ, Muslim, immigrant, refugee, disabled, or none of the above – from hate, discrimination, and other forms of mistreatment.

As members of HILSC, we will continue to provide legal and other services to immigrant and refugee families and other vulnerable communities.  During this time of uncertainty and change, it is critical that immigrants and others who have questions get accurate, reliable information.  Trustworthy organizations that provide free and low-cost immigration legal advice can be found on the Collaborative’s list of member organizations: www.houstonimmigration.org/#members.

Press Coverage

Mayor Turner takes stance on immigration (KHOU – Channel 13)

Officials discuss efforts to welcome immigrants, refugees to Houston (KPRC – Channel 2)

City unveils new office to aid immigrants (Houston Chronicle)

Turner Pledges to Protect Immigrants, But Avoids Calling Houston “Sanctuary City” (Houston Press)

Houston Officials Reiterate They Will Not Ask About Immigration Status, Create New Office To Help (Houston Public Media)

Mayor Turner, HPD chief assure immigrant and refugee community it’s safe despite Trump win (CW39)

Mayor Turner announces initiative to protect immigrants (Fox26)

Sylvester Turner anunció la apertura de una nueva oficina para inmigrantes y refugiados (Univision)

Alcalde Turner rediseña oficina de servicio para inmigrantes (Telemundo)

AUGUST 3, 2016 – The City of Houston Office of International Communities, Neighborhood Centers and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative announced a partnership that will make Houston an official “Welcoming City” committed to creating a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.  The partnership will launch a multi-sector strategic planning effort focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans.

Houston joins numerous municipal governments that have signed on as Welcoming Cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York City.  Welcoming Cities is an initiative of Welcoming America, a national nonprofit organization with expertise in local innovations that advance civic, economic and linguistic integration.

Immigrant Integration Strategic Plan

The Welcoming Houston initiative will bring together leaders from the nonprofit, business, education, faith and cultural sectors to develop a multi-sector strategic plan focused on improving opportunities and advancing integration for foreign-born residents.

“As a Welcoming City, Houston is committed to building an inclusive environment where all communities have the opportunity to contribute to our economy and vibrant civic, social and cultural fabric,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.  “We are the most diverse city in the nation.  With that distinction comes the responsibility of ensuring that we are also an inclusive and equitable city where everyone has fair access to jobs, education, essential services and a voice in local government.  This strategic plan will help guide us as we work toward that goal.”

The plan will set forth recommendations focused on economic mobility, access to services, education, language access, public safety and legal status.  Welcoming Houston partners will present the plan to the mayor in November as part of the city’s observance of Citizenship Month.

“This plan will continue to make Houston a welcoming place of opportunity for all,” said Angela Blanchard, President and CEO of Neighborhood Centers.  “Through this collaboration, we will ensure our city enhances our position as one of the most attractive destinations for immigrants looking for a place where they feel welcomed, they can work and they can build a future for themselves and their families.”

“This strategic planning process will only work if a wide array of stakeholders is engaged,” said Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, a local coalition representing many immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations.  “We are looking forward to working with members of the public and private sector to make recommendations on how Houston can be more welcoming to its incredibly rich and growing immigrant populations.”

The planning effort is supported by the Gateways for Growth Challenge, an initiative of Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America.  Houston is one of 20 communities nationwide selected to receive support for immigrant integration planning.

The strategic plan will be presented to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as part of Citizenship Month in November. Implementation of the recommendations will be the responsibility all of the involved stakeholders.

Immigrant Population Economic Impact

Current data on the impact of the foreign-born population in Texas and Houston, including tax contributions, spending power and role in key industries as leaders and job creators, supports the importance of building a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.

The initiative will be informed by a recent report published by NAE revealing that Houston’s foreign-born population has grown 17% from 2009 to 2014 – accounting for 34% of the overall population growth in the region. Foreign-born residents contributed $116.5 billion to the region’s GDP and held $31.8 billion in spending power in 2014. While the foreign-born make up one-quarter of the overall-population, they are 32% of the employed labor force and 42% of the self-employed labor force. Foreign-born residents in Houston are twice as likely to own their own businesses than their U.S.-born counterparts. Welcoming Cities demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the inclusion and long-term economic integration of newcomers.

The launch of Welcoming Houston also coincides with the Reason for Reform national campaign, which brings together state business, civic and cultural leaders to urge Congress to take action on immigration reform. A statewide report on the economic contributions of immigrants in Texas was released as part of the Reason for Reform campaign.

Further reading

New Americans in Houston: A Snapshot of the Demographic and Economic Contributions of Immigrants in the Houston Area (NAE Report)

The Contributions of New Americans in Texas (NAE Report)

Media Coverage

Houston moves to become ‘Welcoming City’ for immigrants (Houston Chronicle)

Report: Immigrants inject over $116 billion into Houston’s GDP (Houston Chronicle)

Houston Launches Effort to Welcome Immigrants, Refugees (ABC13)

Officials and community members meet to discuss immigration reform at the local level (Fox26)

City leaders launch Welcoming Houston initiative (Defender Network)

Houston Becomes an Official “Welcoming City” (Houston Public Media)

Our Welcoming City (Houston Chronicle editorial)

JUNE 23, 2016 – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on Texas v. United States, upholding per curiam the existing injunction delaying any implementation of expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). This means that the lawsuit filed by the State of Texas and joined by 26 other states against the President’s administrative action will continue through the merits phase of the case. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of expanded DACA or DAPA, leaving open the possibility of another appeal after the case in Brownsville concludes. The Court’s decision does not affect the existing DACA program, which has been in place since 2012.

Under DAPA, 3.6 million unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents may be able to gain work authorization and protection from deportation. An estimated 200,000 individuals in the greater Houston area may qualify for the DAPA or expanded DACA programs. Those programs, however, remain on hold after today’s ruling.

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (Collaborative) is a network of trusted organizations that provide accurate and high-quality legal services to immigrants for free or very low cost. The Collaborative’s member organizations should be the go-to sources of information for members of the community seeking free or low-cost immigration legal services.

The Collaborative hosted a press conference today at MECA, home to United We Dream, featuring members of the collaborative and community members impacted by the Supreme Court’s non-decision.

“Today’s supreme court ruling may leave some people confused about their legal status,” said Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Collaborative. “Even without DAPA and the expanded DACA program available right now, however, many people may qualify for some other form of immigration relief, including DACA 2012, that they aren’t aware of. We encourage Houstonians to seek assistance from one of our member organizations. We want people to get high quality legal assistance from trustworthy organizations.”

It is very important to note that the original DACA program, launched in 2012, remains in place and active. More than 700,000 individuals have received DACA in the United States and the benefits are well-documented. Individuals seeking deferred action through the DACA program should seek legal advice from one of the Collaborative’s trusted partners, listed at www.houstonimmigration.org.

There is a lot of misinformation about deferred action programs. Unscrupulous individuals, often called “notarios,” take advantage of immigrants, scamming them out of money and often putting their ability to obtain legal status in jeopardy forever.

Tips for avoiding immigration fraud:

  • Before speaking with an immigration legal services provider, make sure he/she is a licensed attorney or Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative.  Notarios are not authorized to practice law in the United States unless they are also licensed attorneys.
  • Do not listen to consultants, notarios, or lawyers who ask for money to place you or your family on a waiting list to submit your application for some form of relief.
  • Avoid telephone scammers posing as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) personnel or other government officials.  USCIS will not call you to ask for any information over the phone.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When in doubt, check with a trusted organization and with the USCIS website for answers.

Find a trusted organization to seek assistance with DACA or another form of legal relief.

Coverage of the June 23, 2016 press conference:

“Houston Leaders Decry SCOTUS Immigration Ruling” – Houston Chronicle 

“Supreme Court’s tie blocks Obama immigration order” – Houston Chronicle

“Advocates speak on Supreme Court split decision over Obama immigration plan” – KPRC

Inmigrantes, decepcionados por fallo sobre acción ejecutiva – Univision 45 Houston

Thousands of undocumented immigrants in Houston area reeling from Supreme Court ruling – Fox26

Houston Endowment Affirms Commitment to Legal Resources for Immigrants in Light of Supreme Court Ruling on DACA/DAPA

 

The New Americans Campaign (NAC) is a  nonpartisan national network of legal-service providers, faith-based organizations, businesses, foundations and community leaders committed to improving access to citizenship for immigrants. NAC currently organizes a national, nonpartisan citizenship campaign throughout the country, focused on major cities with large numbers of citizenship-eligible residents, including Houston.

NAC recently released a case study highlighting the the benefits of partnership between Human Services Agencies and New Americans Campaign collaborations to promote access to naturalization assistance.

The case study finds that “Partnerships with human services agencies have yielded up to, and at times exceeded, tenfold increases in the number of LPRs [lawful permanent residents] receiving naturalization assistance in one sitting.” It also highlights the way in which the partnerships help fee-waiver eligible populations. The case study gives specific pointers that other local governments across the country can use to implement a similar approach.

Download the case study.

 

Unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in the United States are entitled to a full hearing before an immigration judge to determine if they have a legal claim to remain in the U.S. Unfortunately, as has been reported again and again, many children around the country appear before immigration judges without attorney representation. Multiple reports, including a 2014 Pew Hispanic Research Center study and ongoing data collected by the Syracuse University, have shown that representation is the single most important factor influencing a case’s outcome. From FY 2012 through FY 2014, 73% of children who were represented by attorneys when appearing before an immigration judge were allowed to remain in the United States. By comparison, only 15% of children appearing without attorney representation were allowed to remain in the United States – 80% were ordered deported.

Last week, a senior Justice Department official and immigration judge, Jack H. Weil, stated in a deposition that that 3- and 4-year-olds can learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court. His statements have brought a renewed focus onto the issue of representation for unaccompanied immigrant children.

Collaborative Executive Committee member and Director of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, Geoffrey Hoffman, recently published a response to Judge Weil’s statement. You can read his full response here.

A new immigration representation study by National Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC) participant Ingrid Eagly (UCLA) was published in December, 2015 in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. The title of the study is “A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court.”

Abstract

Although immigrants have a right to be represented by counsel in immigration court, it has long been the case that the government has no obligation to provide an attorney for those who are unable to afford one. Recently, however, a broad coalition of public figures, scholars, advocates, courts, and philanthropic foundations have begun to push for the establishment of a public defender system for poor immigrants facing deportation. Yet the national debate about appointing defense counsel for immigrants has proceeded with limited information regarding how many immigrants currently obtain attorneys and the efficacy and efficiency of such representation.

This article presents the results of the first national study of access to counsel in United States immigration courts. Drawing on data from over 1.2 million deportation cases decided between 2007 and 2012, we find that only 37% of all immigrants, and a mere 14% of detained immigrants, secured representation. Only 2% of immigrants obtained pro bono representation from nonprofit organizations, law school clinics, or large law firm volunteer programs. Barriers to representation were particularly severe in immigration courts located in rural areas and small cities, where almost one-third of detained cases were adjudicated.

Moreover, we find that immigrants with attorneys fared far better: among similarly situated removal respondents, the odds were fifteen times greater that immigrants with representation, as compared to those without, sought relief, and five-and-a-half times greater that they obtained relief from removal. In addition, we show that involvement of counsel was associated with certain gains in court efficiency: represented respondents brought fewer unmeritorious claims, were more likely to be released from custody, and, once released, were more likely to appear at their future deportation hearings. This research provides an essential data-driven understanding of immigration representation that should inform discussions of expanding access to counsel.

Download “A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court” (PDF)

 

Two law schools are members of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative: University of Houston and South Texas College of Law, both of which have excellent legal clinics for students seeking to develop expertise in the areas of immigration law. These schools and their students play an important role in the capacity of immigration legal service providers in Houston. While the number of cases they can take is relatively low, these clinics are training the next generation of immigration attorneys with the experience and expertise to help immigrants with complex and urgent legal needs.

In December, 2015, a law student from Cornell Law School who was participating in an immigration law clinic under the supervision of a faculty member and licensed attorney, was attempting to represent an client before an Immigration Judge. The Judge denied the motion to permit the student’s appearance, citing the backlog of the immigration courts and the unavailability of interpreters, concluding, “[a]t this time, the Court does not believe allowing law students to appear would benefit the parties or the judicial process.”

On January 29th, the Judge’s decision was overturned by the Board of Immigration Appeals, who noted that the Judge had failed to explain how either the backlogged courts or the unavailability of interpreters related to the qualifications of a law student or whether the student should be permitted to appear on behalf of a client.

Collaborative Executive Committee member and Director of the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, Geoffrey Hoffman, recently published a response to this case. Two of his points should be highlighted here:

Quality of representation provided by law students

“It is sometimes not appreciated or perhaps under-appreciated the level of commitment [law] clinics have (and I would say, necessarily have) toward their many clients and students. In order to be a clinical educator working in this specialized field of immigration practice, you have to model professional and personal competence on a daily basis. Students will look to you as an exemplar of legal practice and procedure. Because the students are working under a faculty member who is a practicing attorney, we cannot let them fail. Over and above the fact that there is a fiduciary duty to teach and mentor students, in addition we cannot and should not let them make any mistake which would reflect on our bar card, and otherwise impact the ethical rules.  The level of attention to detail this necessitates cannot be understated and moreover should be viewed in the context of a high (almost 100%) turnover rate of students year to year or semester to semester, as new students come into the clinical program. A friend and former colleague once commented to me as a clinical professor that there is no way he could run a practice where every several months you have a new crop of new associates who have to learn the ropes again and again, without the assurances of continuity that a firm usually provides. This continuity of course we provide and comes from the rigors of our program and the values of our professors.”

Women and children lack legal representation in immigration court proceedings

“Although there is lip service paid to the ‘rights’ of immigrants in the media, the fact remains that of the women and children currently with final orders of removal who have been prioritized by the current administration, the vast majority (86%) had no legal representation whatsoever. See TRAC Report. Moreover, we know that just having an attorney representing one of these women and children (although never a guarantee to any particular outcome) means a 14-fold increase in the person’s chances….The cited reasons [for the Immigration Judge’s denial of the original request], the backlog and translators, while I am sure a source of concern and pressure for the judge did not in any way justify violating the right to counsel. I am heartened that the BIA saw through the smokescreen. These decisions by the Board can be seen as a sound rejection of the IJ’s implicit, erroneous and misguided message that instead of being part of the problem, law school clinics and law students must be viewed as part of an integrated solution as we move to address the terrible plight of women and children (and in fact of all respondents) stuck in the immigration court system today.”

Read Mr. Hoffman’s full response here.

United We Dream, the national network of immigrant youth, has just released its “No More Closets” report, the largest national survey of the LGBTQ immigrant community ever conducted.

The report tells the collective and individual stories of some 461 individuals who self identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and who are either born outside of the United States or are U.S.-born citizens with foreign-born parents. The survey was conducted in late 2015 both online and through individual interviews.

The report uncovers high levels of discrimination and harassment in employment, healthcare, housing and education and a distrust of law enforcement among this highly resilient population.

“With this survey, we aim to both tell our stories to policymakers as well as to the young people in our communities who are struggling that they are not alone and that together we can turn our shared struggle and power into the change we seek,” said Carlos Padilla, National Coordinator of United We Dream’s Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project. “In fact, some of our nation’s leading change makers are LGBTQ immigrant youth – out of great struggle can come great strength.”

Among the findings:

  • 73.4 percent of respondents say that their income either doesn’t cover or just barely covers their living expenses. Only 26.6 percent report earning enough to live comfortably

  • About half say they have experienced discrimination at school because of their sexual orientation

  • 41 percent have no health insurance, significantly higher than the general LGBTQ population

  • 46 percent said they have hid or lied about their sexual orientation or gender identity to a health care provider because of fear

  • Nearly half of all respondents say they are afraid to deal with police because of their immigration status or sexual identity.

Survey architect and report author Zenen Jaimes Perez, Policy & Advocacy Analyst for United We Dream, added, “The patterns of discrimination, lack of healthcare and harassment uncovered by this report are heartbreaking but the countless stories of resistance and hope are inspiring. We hope that this report is just the beginning of research into a community determined to live authentically despite the odds.”

In addition to the survey data, the report also includes several individual testimonies of LGBTQ immigrant leaders themselves including this one from Bianey Garcia of New York City:

“Coming out for me was not about visibility, it was about survival and about being able to share my strength with other youth who continue to remain in the shadows and in fear as undocumented and LGBTQ. As a transgender immigrant woman, being out and counted is a critical step so other people in my community can feel safe.”