United We Dream has launched Notifica, a mobile application  designed to assist immigrant families who come in contact with immigration agents.

Notifica will serve as a key tool to assist immigrant families under increasing threat of criminalization and deportation as the Trump administration pushes further to carry out a mass detention and deportation agenda.

With the push of a button, Notifica connects users with their relatives, lawyers and support networks in a fast and secure manner. Notifica is the next step for our communities to continue organizing and protecting each other. 

Learn more about Notifica by visiting www.notifica.us and particularly the FAQ.

Help get the word out about Notifica out online by using the social media toolkit, and encourage people to text NOTIFICA to 877877 to get links to the app store.

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Human Rights First, and Covington & Burling LLP filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s arbitrary detention of asylum seekers fleeing persecution, torture, or death in their countries of origin.

All the plaintiffs have passed credible fear screenings — meaning a U.S. asylum officer has determined their fear of persecution is credible, and that they have a significant possibility of receiving full asylum. Government policy stipulates that asylum seekers be granted humanitarian parole as they await their immigration proceedings, provided they meet a series of stringent requirements. Instead, the Trump administration is categorically jailing them indefinitely, in violation of the Constitution, U.S. immigration laws, and the Department of Homeland Security’s own written policy.

“The Trump administration wants to make life so miserable for asylum seekers that they give up and return to their home countries, even at the risk of torture or death,” said Michael Tan, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The administration is wielding indefinite detention as a weapon to deter future asylum seekers, which is both cruel and unconstitutional.”

The class-action lawsuit targets five U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices that have almost entirely stopped granting parole since early 2017. Those offices are Detroit (which covers Michigan and Ohio), El Paso (which covers New Mexico and West Texas), Los Angeles, Newark (which covers New Jersey), and Philadelphia (which covers Pennsylvania).

“This case is about respecting human life and human rights, and about ensuring our nation remains a beacon of justice, democracy, and freedom,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Indefinitely detaining those who seek asylum on our shores goes against the Constitution and our values as a nation. It is our duty to welcome the stranger, not add to her suffering by locking her up.”

In 2013, nine out of 10 asylum seekers in the five field offices were found to meet the government’s criteria and were promptly released from immigration custody. In 2017, under the Trump administration, parole grants by the ICE offices named in this lawsuit dropped to nearly zero. More than 1,000 asylum seekers are estimated to have been denied parole in those five ICE districts alone.

“For many asylum seekers, prolonged detention unjustly denies freedom to those who fled to us for justice. The Trump administration’s attack on parole is part of its ongoing assault to undermine the asylum system, a cornerstone of our nation’s identity since its founding. Exacerbating the suffering of individuals to deter future asylum seekers is simply un-American,” said Human Rights First’s legal director, Hardy Vieux.

Lead plaintiff Ansly Damus — an ethics teacher from Haiti — has been locked up in Ohio for one year, four months, and counting. Damus committed no crime. Rather, he had spoken out against a government official and was then forced to flee violent, political persecution. When he arrived in the U.S., he presented himself to immigration authorities and requested asylum. He passed his credible fear interview and was granted asylum by a judge — not once, but twice. Despite that, he has remained behind bars while the government appealed his grants of asylum. The Trump administration has put Damus behind bars indefinitely alongside thousands of other asylum seekers like him. ICE has not allowed him outside even once in over a year.

“I have not breathed fresh air or felt the sun on my face, and I never know if it is cold or hot outside, if the sun is out, and if the seasons are changing,” Damus said.

Other plaintiffs include:

  • Alexi Ismael Montes Castro, 18, detained at York County Prison in Pennsylvania. He fled Honduras after being beaten and held at gunpoint for being openly gay.
  • A husband and wife detained separately at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas and the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico. The couple fled Mexico after being targeted and threatened with death by a criminal cartel.
  • A 22-year-old detained at El Paso Processing Center in Texas, who fled El Salvador after being threatened with death for refusing to join a gang. He has been locked up for more than 21 months and has been denied parole despite posing no flight risk or danger to the public.

“Individuals fleeing persecution have a right under U.S. and international law to seek asylum from our government,” said Eunice Lee, co-legal director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. “They should not be locked away and punished simply for doing so.”

The case, Damus v. Nielsen, was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. It names the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice as defendants.

The complaint is at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/damus-v-nielsen-final-complaint

This statement is at: https://www.aclu.org/news/groups-challenge-trump-administrations-arbitrary-detention-asylum-seekers

More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/damus-v-nielsen

In response to the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals forcing SB 4 on the state of Texas, immigrant youth with United We Dream, representatives and members of Texas Organizing Project (TOP), Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas AFL-CIO, SEIU Texas and Mi Familia Vota among other allies took action on March 14th outside of Houston City Hall.

Video of the event can be viewed here.

SB 4 is racist and we will not succumb to this racist law. We are resilient and powerful and equipped to protect ourselves. #HereToFight #SB4isRACIST

Posted by United We Dream – Houston on Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Damaris Gonzalez, lead organizer, United We Dream Houston, said:
“This decision, on top of Trump’s decision to kill DACA, is putting our families and communities in danger of more separation from loved ones, further criminalization of the brown and black community, more hate crimes against our people, and more stories like that of Dennis. Dennis was bullied at his high school for being undocumented and when he reported the incident was arrested by HISD police who took him to county jail where he was later placed under ICE custody who now, two months later is holding him in a detention camp miles away from his family. This decision comes to no surprise to us, and our community is vigilant and organized. We know our rights, will defend our rights, and no matter what, we will hold politicians accountable to our community and push for bold leadership to pass local policies that protect our families from separation, expose racial profiling and hold law enforcement accountable. In Houston, the Immigrant Rights hotline (1-833-HOU-IMMI) equips our immigrant communities with tools to fight back, and to help people identify and report racial profiling or violations of civil rights. Texas is our home, we are here to stay and here to fight!”

Natalia Cornelio, Criminal Justice Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:
“The decision is a blow to the civil rights of every Texan. Millions of immigrants and people of color face the prospect of unlawful racial profiling and discrimination. But we are not deterred. We knew this was going to be a long fight when we started and we are prepared to go the distance. This ruling explicitly emphasizes that the implementation of SB4 must still follow the Constitution and is not a blank pass for police officers to ask everyone about their immigration status. We urge community members in Houston and across Texas to know their rights and contact us if they face civil rights violations. At the same time, it is now incumbent of every single city and county in Texas to ensure that they abide by our constitutional principles and take steps to ensure that discretionary arrests do not lead to deportation and the breaking up of families.”

Andrea Guttin, Legal Director for the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative voiced some of the concerns of the immigration legal services community:
“SB4 will decrease access to legal counsel because it encourages racial profiling – leading to more arrests and, subsequently, landing more people in immigration detention facing deportation.  An estimated ten percent of people in Houston’s three detention centers have access to counsel, yet representation is a key factor in winning a claim to lawfully remain in the U.S.”

Mi Familia Vota Texas State Director, Carlos Duarte, offered some insights for local communities:
“We will be making a call to local officials to implement mitigating policies to prevent racial profiling by law enforcement and to ensure that policing to keep communities safe takes priority over immigration enforcement. We need the police to do their jobs, not to act as ICE agents. Latinos deserve equal protection under the law. While SB4 is in effect, our civil liberties and rights are being violated. We urge community members to report all detentions, arrests, suspicion of racial profiling, and other abuses to the dedicated Immigrant Rights Hotline. More than anything, however, go out and vote. This law was created by and upheld by elected individuals – but we can elect who determines which laws should be valid. We have rights that need to be respected and our line of defense is at the polls.”

Rev. Felon Bonner II, TOP Board Member, said:
“SB4 is is an affront to justice and progress. SB4 is white supremacy codified. SB4 is more people of color behind bars, more families separated, more of us living in fear. I don’t want that. I don’t want that for my state, for my city, for my neighbors, for my community. Let us not forget that SB 4 became law almost solely on the votes of white men who have never been harassed by police because of the color of their skin. It is these same white men who routinely attack women’s health care, are constantly trying to pass laws that discriminate against the LGBTQ community and have done nothing to protect Black lives. But we, the people of Texas, will not be coerced or intimidated into being a party to their campaign of hate and division. We will not let their dog whistle politics that aim to criminalize and marginalize people of color go unanswered or unchallenged. We will continue to fight them whether it’s in Austin or New Orleans. We will continue to organize. We will rise! We will win!”

Since the law was introduced last year, undocumented youth, families, allies and thousands of brown and Black immigrants, families, and allies took over the State Capitol in Austin to fight back, saying, “SB 4 is Racist!” Today, they continue to fight to protect Texas families from the terror, instability, and fear white supremacist lawmakers have forced on communities of color.

In Houston, community members can learn more about defending their rights, access free and low cost legal services, and find ways to fight back against deportations by calling 1-833-HOU-IMMI (468-4664).

Rapid Response & Reporting Infrastructure Builds as Anti-Immigrant Law SB 4 Turns Local Police into Deportation Agents and Congress Misses Deadline to Protect Millions of Immigrant Youth

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), with the help of Boat People SOS, BakerRipley, United We Dream, and other partners, announced expansion of its Immigrant Rights hotline. The updated hotline capacity will ensure that cases of profiling are brought to the attention of legal advocates, and will connect callers to local action and advocacy opportunities in order to fight against deportations abuse from enforcement agents. These are in addition to the hotline’s current capacity as a connection point to free and low-cost immigration legal services, and up-to-the-moment information about current immigration law and the policies that affect non-citizen residents of the greater Houston region.

HILSC and its partners announced the expansion as a countermeasure to the profiling effects of Texas’s Senate Bill 4 (SB4), and the continued voluntary collaboration of many city police departments in the region as well as Harris County Sheriff with ICE—a practice that has led to some of the country’s highest deportation rates in Houston. The group expects the hotline to serve as a network of information and protection for people of color facing discrimination, and the region’s 500,000+ undocumented residents, including thousands of immigrant youth currently fighting for permanent protections from deportation.

The hotline (833-HOU-IMMI) takes calls from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Operators are bilingual in Spanish and English, and interpretation is available in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Arabic, and other languages.

The hotline is made possible through the efforts of ACLU of Texas, Boat People SOS, BakerRipley, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Tahirih Justice Center, and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.

Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said:
“The Immigrant Rights Hotline received more than 5,000 calls in 2017, and has become an important access point to help our community find resources and legal services, particularly as anti-immigrant state and federal policies change on a near daily basis. We are incredibly grateful to all of the partners who helped develop and staff the Hotline throughout its first year, including Tahirih Justice Center, ACLU of Texas, Vinson & Elkins, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, and more than 100 volunteer attorneys. This cohort of dedicated individuals laid the groundwork for the expanded Hotline, staffed by BakerRipley, Boat People SOS, and United We Dream.”

Janette Diep, Executive Director at Boat People SOS and said:
“The hotline will give our community members the resource and support they need in the midst of changing immigration policies and during a time of many uncertainties.”

Damaris Gonzalez, Lead organizer, United We Dream Houston, said:
“An organized community is a powerful community, and the expanded capacities of the Hotline are one more way that we are building networks of information and organizing movement toward justice for the immigrant community in our region. The Hotline will connect our community to opportunities to take action and advocate at the local, state and national levels because despite the attacks on immigrants of all ages, we are here to fight and we are here to stay.”

Jill Campbell, Managing Immigration Attorney, BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers, Inc.), said:
“The hotline will bring a sense of empowerment to the immigrant community and assure them that Houston will continue to be a welcoming city that is here to help.”

Edgar Saldivar, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Texas, said:
“In these troubling times, immigrant communities face great uncertainty and angst. Genuine questions abound, specifically, over DACA and SB4, and, generally, over the increasing intrusions by law enforcement agents into safe spaces for immigrant communities. For these reasons, it is important for Texans to have access to real-time information. With immigrants, refugees and travelers being targeted with new or more aggressive enforcement tactics, the ACLU and its partners on this hotline are committed to helping people understand their constitutional rights.”