Archive for category: Public Policy
The Trump administration proposes sweeping changes that endanger the lives of immigrant families, including families with children born in the United States. The proposed “public charge” rule changes would strongly prejudice immigration pathways toward higher-income people, while raising new high barriers for prospective immigrants if they have lower incomes, or have used government benefits.
On September 7, 2018 the Trump Administration published a draft of new regulations concerning the detention of families which, if finalized, will increase family detention and eliminate protections for children who arrive with their parents. You can take action!
Condemn the crisis manufactured by Trump administration “Zero Tolerance” policy; Call on local, state and federal officials to block abusive conditions and family separation
Houston, TX – Today, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner publicly opposed a new Houston immigrant children’s facility. The mayor joins calls by Houston immigrants, legal advocates and service providers to local officials, state representatives, and members of Congress to take explicit action to block considerations for any new immigrant child facilities. The proposed facility is the result of the new federal practice of tearing apart and imprisoning asylum-seeking families, a practice condemned by the immigrant community, advocates and people of conscience.
Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said:
“We are in the midst of a manufactured crisis that is creating a false need for a new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter in Houston. While the service providers stand ready to help families impacted by family separation and we welcome these families in Houston, we reject the notion that we should enable the build-out of the detention system. The Mayor seemed to suggest he would be okay with parents and children being detained together, but we strongly believe that asylum seekers should never be imprisoned while seeking refuge in the United States, and separating children from their parents is a cruel tactic to deter immigrants from exercising their rights to seek asylum.”
Damaris Gonzalez, Lead organizer, United We Dream Houston, said:
“There are children in detention facilities left to fend for themselves, trembling and traumatized, because of an administration that has chosen to pull them from the arms of their parents to make a political statement. Children will not be used as pawns, and Houston will not allow kidnappers to set up in our city and continue destroying families. We call on Harris County and Texas leadership to take any and all action against facilities like this that exist solely because the Trump administration has made the callous and unthinkable decision to separate and imprison families seeking refuge from terror. Families deserve to be reunited immediately and granted the asylum they seek. Family destruction is what happens when ICE and CBP continue to go unchecked and they must be abolished now.”
Claudia Aguirre, President and CEO, BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers, Inc.), said:
“BakerRipley does not support families being torn apart who are fleeing to our southern border for safety. Our organization is committed to providing direct legal representation to separated families housed in Houston area detention centers. And we are working with state-wide and national coalitions to educate the community about the impacts of this policy. BakerRipley will continue to advocate for the families who come to this region – taking action to keep welcome alive. As a nation, we desperately need sensible and comprehensive immigration reform. We need pragmatic solutions to address this issue- end the immediate cruelty to children and deal fairly and justly with people seeking asylum.”
Astrid Dominguez, Director, ACLU Border Rights Center, said:
“We stand firm with Mayor Turner in his opposition to President Trump’s monstrous and morally irredeemable family separation policy, and we will continue to work until that policy is consigned to the scrap heap of history where it belongs.”
Mary Moreno, communications director of the Texas Organizing Project, said:
“On a day when we’re celebrating the delayed ending of slavery in Texas, Juneteenth, it’s heartbreaking that we’re still fighting for liberation, and even sadder that it’s the liberation of children. This is America’s eternal struggle, living up to its values. Although we have never achieved that aspiration of equality and fairness for all, we’ve never stopped fighting, hoping. Today, we stand with Mayor Turner in rejecting Trump’s manufactured crisis, and stand with the immigrants who are running from danger and despair.”
Daniel J. Cohen, President, Indivisible Houston, said:
“Accepting the overflow from Trump’s concentration camps and housing them on Emancipation Avenue, down the street from Minute Maid Park, home of the world champion Houston Astros, is the most unwelcoming, anti-family statement Houston could possibly make. The People are rightfully enraged by the murder, mass trials, and terrorizing of communities and anti-Constitutional commoditization of children for political gain. We are organized to fight the deportation machine.”
Mario Salinas, Civic Engagement Coordinator, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, said:
“This is a manufactured crisis resulting from the administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which has seen a record number of children stripped from their loved ones and put into rushed facilities, that may not be equipped to deal with their needs. The trauma these children are experiencing could be lessened by the administration today. Yet they choose to play political games with young people who are seeking refuge in a nation that was once known for compassionate values. We, as the most diverse city in the nation, must fight back.”
Natalia Cornelio, Criminal Justice Reform Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:
“Every day, since May 2018, the federal government has been arresting migrating families and taking children away from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of children have been taken from their parents under this policy. This is unprecedented, unnecessary, and cruel. We oppose this unconscionable policy, and we must oppose the building of additional facilities that enable it to continue. Thank you, Mayor Turner, for taking a step in the right direction on this national, humanitarian crisis. We hope that our other local, state, and national leaders join you, that this policy stops immediately, and that the separated families be reunited at once.”
The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) is a consortium of immigration legal services providers and immigrant rights advocates and stakeholders. More information is available at www.houstonimmigration.org.
Additional information about United We Dream is available at unitedwedream.org
Texas Organizing Project organizes Black and Latino communities in Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve. For more information, visit organizetexas.org.
In Houston and around the country, immigrant women seeking refuge from domestic violence are more likely to face deportation under new Department of Justice decision.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a legal decision that erodes protections for domestic violence survivors and all refugee women. Through a seldom-used legal procedure, Sessions reversed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ grant of asylum to a Salvadoran domestic violence survivor in a case known as Matter of A-B.
As noted by the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS), a member of Ms. A-B’s legal team, “Ms. A.B. fled to the United States after suffering 15 years of brutal violence at the hands of her ex-husband. He beat and kicked her, including while she was pregnant; bashed her head against a wall; threatened her with death while holding a knife to her throat and while brandishing a gun; and threatened to hang her. Ms. A.B. attempted to secure state protection, to no avail.”
The facts of Ms. A-B’s case are tragic, but not at all uncommon among refugee women who come to Houston in search of a safer life for themselves and their children.
“The issues underlying this decision point to a larger problem which enables violence against women to go under-reported and under-prosecuted both in the U.S. and abroad. Imagine suffering abuse from your intimate partner and availing yourself of every possible avenue for relief in your home country, but your country and its criminal justice system fails you. Where would you ago?” asks Rachna Khare, executive director of Daya Inc, a non-profit that provides holistic services for domestic violence survivors, specializing in South Asian clients. Moreover, “categorizing domestic violence as ‘private violence’ minimizes the role governments and patriarchal societal norms play in keeping women and girls oppressed and unsafe in their homes. As a public health crisis affecting 1 in 3 women worldwide, domestic violence is the opposite of a private matter.”
Hana is one such survivor, whose life was saved because of American asylum laws with assistance from Daya. Years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by her partner in Libya created a life where she felt she “couldn’t breathe” and “couldn’t see.” Throughout her marriage, Hana was forced to have sex with her abuser, often after episodes of physical violence that left her bruised on the ground. She described countless nights of being thrown, punched, and kicked. He would pull her hair and rape her, even during difficult moments of her pregnancies. As part of a traditional mixed family structure, her in-laws witnessed and partook in this abuse as well. There was nowhere she could safely report the behavior, and furthermore, spousal rape is not recognized in Libya as a crime.
Hana became cautiously hopeful when her husband secured an international scholarship for her at the University of Houston, allowing her and her children to come to the United States legally. Over time, Hana was empowered by the U.S. criminal justice system to call the police, receive protection from her abuser, and eventually apply for asylum with the help of a pro bono attorney and Daya. After more than four years, an immigration judge in Houston granted her asylum claim, which was based on her past persecution as a victim of domestic violence.
Almost eight years later, Hana now helps others as an instructor at a local community college; she owns a house and her children are thriving.
“I still believe that coming to America was the right decision for my family, but with every turn comes more difficulties from the government,” Hana said of Jeff Session’s decision in the Matter of A-B. “The frequent deprivation of humanitarian needs caused by the unjust asylum law of America has left sorrow and pain in my heart.”
AG Session’s decision means that Hana may not have been able to secure her safety via the asylum process. Under his decision, the United States is more likely to deny asylum to women seeking protection from domestic violence and places doubt on the ability of women to receive protection from any form of persecution inflicted by individuals not acting on behalf of the government.
“In the 1940s, when the asylum definition was written, gender wasn’t a specific protected class – yet in recent years courts had been moving towards an understanding that the treatment of women in society merits special consideration. This decision is an attack on women’s rights and the progress we have made in ensuring that violence against women, including rape, is treated as seriously as any other crime,” said Andrea Guttin, legal director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.
Winning an asylum claim is already extraordinarily difficult anywhere, but particularly in Houston, which has one of the lowest asylum grant rates in the country,. From 2012 through 2017 in the Houston immigration courts, judges have denied 86% of asylum claims because of the complex burden of proof and lack of legal representation for asylum seekers.
“I am outraged by the decision. By overturning previous legal precedent and changing long-settled U.S. policy, Jeff Sessions is creating conditions for women and girls who cannot get justice in their own countries, who have fled for their lives, and who are relying on the U.S.’s adherence to international legal standards, to be sent back to face abuse and death,” said Anne Chandler, executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center’s Houston office, which provides free legal representation to asylum seekers.
Tahirih recently encountered a woman, Sara* from Central America who came to Houston fleeing severe domestic abuse from her partner, who is the father of her young children. The first time Sara’s partner abused her, he beat her so badly she was hospitalized, and upon returning home, he promptly beat her again and she was returned to the hospital. Though she filed a police report, nothing came of it and she became increasingly afraid of him and the abuse continued. He would constantly threaten her, saying if he ever saw her with another man he would kill her. On multiple occasions, he threatened to take their children away. When he was not home, Sara’s partner began to keep her and their children locked in the home, at times denying them food. After a particularly violent beating, Sara gathered the courage to come to the United States with her children in the hopes of finding safety through the asylum process.
While Sara is now safe from immediate harm, Jeff Sessions’ decision puts Sara’s chances at winning her claim in serious jeopardy, which could mean deportation back into abuse and a legal system that will continue to fail her. If Houston is to truly be a welcoming city for all immigrants and refugees, we must recognize the local implications of decisions like this one. The deliberate erosion of the legal asylum system is one that should concern all Houstonians.
*not her real name
Members of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative call on Congress to take action to restore funding for the efficient and effective LOP program
On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, news broke that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is pausing the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) “legal orientation program” (LOP) while it conducts an “efficiency audit.” Contracts with the 20 immigration legal services provider nonprofits around the country will end on April 30. This means that, starting May 1, 53,000 immigrants will no longer be provided with information regarding their due process rights, leading to increased deportations and family separations. The nonprofits who provide these services, have a mere 20 days to determine alternative methods to getting vital legal information to detained immigrants as there is little to suggest that this “pause” will be anything but permanent.
Across Texas, five nonprofits provide legal orientations to more than 30,000 immigrants in 11 facilities in the border region, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. Through the Legal Orientation Program, unrepresented detained immigrants learn about the removal process, find out about potential immigration relief, discuss their situation with an attorney and, in some cases, obtain referral to pro bono attorneys and other nonprofits in Houston. The Program is administered nationally by the Vera Institute of Justice.
In the Greater Houston Region, the YMCA International Services has been the only provider of legal orientations to detained immigrants since 2007. Through the LOP, they provide legal orientations to more than 6,000 individuals annually in three detention facilities: Houston Contract Detention Facility (Houston); Joe Corley Detention Facility (Conroe); and Polk County Adult Detention Center (Livingston). A new facility will open later this year, also in Conroe. These detention centers have some of the lowest legal representation rates of any in the country: only 27% of the approximately 3,000 detained immigrants have legal representation at any point during their case.
Elizabeth Sanchez-Kennedy, Immigration Legal Services Director, YMCA International Services said,
“Ending the Legal Orientation Program will dramatically decrease immigrants’ access to the information they need to be able to make informed decisions about the deportation process and further reduce the number of immigrants represented in immigration court. Our staff at the YMCA have passionately participated in legal orientation programs for many years and have developed an expertise in navigating the murky system for which there is no guide.”
The Legal Orientation Program was created during the George W. Bush administration as a mechanism to improve immigration court efficiency. The program does not provide direct representation for individuals, but is the primary pathway for detained immigrants to get referrals to attorneys and organizations who can represent them.
Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said,
“We believe that it is fundamentally unjust for anyone living in the United States to face a judge without an attorney to help them navigate a complex legal system or to face deportation without ever being informed of their rights and options. It is our assumption that without advocacy, this temporary pause of the program will be permanent, as the current administration has shown little regard for due process and access to legal counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings. The end of LOP will certainly result in a decrease of representation and an increase in unjust deportations. This is another tactic – along with immigration judge case quotas, increased court hearing speeds, and family separation at the border – to deny immigrants access to counsel.”
The LOP program allows providers such as YMCA International Services to have a regular presence in immigration detention facilities, where they can reach out to detainees who have limited English proficiency, financial resources or cognitive capacity who will otherwise be unable to access any legal assistance. Without the EOIR’s LOP, each Houston detention facility will be left to decide whether or not, or to what extent it will allow legal orientations to detainees, diminishing detained immigrants’ only access to legal assistance.
A 2012 EOIR report to the Senate Appropriations Committee showed unequivocally that facilities run more smoothly when people are informed and court dockets move more quickly when people understand their rights and eligibility for relief. Overall, the savings to the government due to LOP was more than $17.8 million, and the system improves efficiencies for immigration judges, ICE, and facility staff while simultaneously increasing chances of detainees winning their case and making dignified decisions.
Members of the Collaborative stand opposed to this latest attack on immigrants and are calling on our community to call members of congress to state their support for the Legal Orientation Program.
To learn more about the Collaborative’s efforts to provide justice to immigrants facing deportation, visit Deportation Defense Houston.
YMCA of Greater Houston
United We Dream
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Tahirih Justice Center – Houston
Justice For Our Neighbors – Houston
Mi Familia Vota
Chinese Community Center
Human Rights First
Access Justice Houston
Terri Burke, Executive Director, ACLU of Texas
Law Office of Teresa Messer.
Powers Law Group, P.C.
Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH
Brandon Roché, JD
Rosemary Vega, Attorney at Law
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).
Members of Houston’s legal services community – both non-profit organizations that serve low-income immigrants and members of the private bar – oppose SB4, which was signed by Governor Abbott on Sunday, May 7th and will go into effect on September 1, 2017. Punishing so-called “sanctuary cities” was one of the Governor’s “emergency items” for the 2017 legislative session.
At its core, SB4 will lead to racial profiling and the detention and deportation of long-standing members of our Texas community. Specifically, the bill:
- Prohibits any local jurisdiction or campus police department (both private and public) from adopting, enforcing or endorsing any policy that “prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.”
- Requires all local jurisdictions to comply with ICE detainers, despite the fact that detainers have been found by federal court to be unlawful and are acknowledged by the federal government to be voluntary.
- Creates civil, financial penalties for local jurisdictions or campus police departments who fail to comply with these policies.
It is important to note that immigration law is a federal, civil matter, and is in no way the jurisdiction of local law enforcement or local jurisdictions. As has been argued by many members of local law enforcement agencies and advocates, SB4 will erode trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.
SB4 Will Lead to Increased Detention and Deportation of our Neighbors
The greater Houston region is also home to the third largest population of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. – estimated at 575,000, or nearly one-third of the region’s immigrant population (compared to 28% nationwide). Under President Trump’s expanded immigration enforcement priorities, all of the undocumented members of our community are at risk of detention and deportation. SB4 will only exacerbate this process as local officials are empowered to inquire about immigration status and then refer individuals to ICE for detention and eventual deportation. This will have a dramatic impact on Houston’s local economy – 32% of the labor force and 42% of the self-employed population is foreign-born – and social fabric, from school enrollment to family stability.
SB4 Will Reduce Access to Legal Representation and Due Process
We estimate that local service providers currently serve only 20% of low-income immigrant clients who are eligible for any type of immigration legal services. This number is much lower when it comes to representation for detained immigrants in removal proceedings (deportation).
It is well documented that detention dramatically decreases an individual’s access to legal counsel. Indeed, from 2007-2012, 69% of non-detained respondents in the Houston Immigration Court were represented as opposed to just 13% of detained respondents. Neither is a good figure, but the representation rates for detained individuals is dismal.
Studies have shown that immigrants who are represented are much more likely to win relief than those who go without representation. A 2014 study by the Stanford Law School found that detained immigrants with representation are three times more likely to win their deportation case than those without attorneys. For asylum-seeking women and children, the odds of winning an asylum case increases fourteen-fold with legal representation. Having a good immigration lawyer is the key factor in being able to establish a right to remain in the United States. This has been proven true particularly in the unaccompanied minor context. While the vast majority cases initially filed in the Houston immigration Court in FY2016 are still pending, less than 1% of represented cases resulted in removal, whereas 99% of unrepresented cases resulted in removal.
SB4 Empowers Domestic Abusers and Human Traffickers
It is well-documented that domestic abusers and traffickers routinely manipulate their victims by threatening to have them deported if they call the police. A survivor might therefore face the impossible “choice” of risking separation from her young children and forfeiting custody to her abuser upon deportation, or continuing to endure life threatening violence at home. Abusers also commonly hold proof of their victims’ lawful immigration status hostage in order to keep them silent. Citing immigrants’ growing mistrust of police, Houston Police Department cited a 42% reduction in rape reported from Hispanics from January to March 2017 compared to the same period last year.
Regardless of any carve-outs, when local police and federal immigration functions are indistinguishable to immigrants, police become the unwitting accomplices of abusers and traffickers in creating a climate of fear for the most vulnerable among us. Abusers and traffickers are often recidivists and engage in other criminal activity as well. Law enforcement officers rely on victims and witnesses to provide critical, firsthand information to help solve crimes that afflict all members of our communities. Knowing this, Congress created protections for victims in the Violence Against Women Act and Trafficking Victims Protection Act to incentivize immigrant cooperation with law enforcement. SB4 directly undermines their intent. We are all less safe when immigrants are too afraid to come forward, or are swiftly deported and unable to provide eyewitness testimony or access their rights under federal law.
The undersigned stand opposed to SB4 and its chilling effects on due process and public safety.
United We Dream Houston
BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers)
Texas Organizing Project
Justice for our Neighbors Houston
Bonding Against Adversity
Mi Familia Vota
Tahirih Justice Center
Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
Living Hope Wheelchair Association
Migrant Rights Collective
Chinese Community Center
Muslim Bar Association of Houston
Mexican American Bar Association
ACLU of Texas
Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
State Representative Gene Wu
Andrea Guttin, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Kate Vickery, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Geoffrey A. Hoffman, Director UHLC Immigration Clinic
Hania Luna, Tahirih Justice Center
Heidi Tso, Chinese Community Center
Teresa Messer, Law Office of Teresa Messer
Deborah Chen, OCA-Greater Houston
Marisol Valero Torres
Erika J. Lindberg
Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH
Joy Green, Esq.
Salma H. Khan
Dr. Nusrat Ameen
Kristin Zipple-Shedd, JD/MSW
Robert H. Etnyre, Jr.
Jane Langdell Robinson
Cesar G. Leyva
Joseph Y. Ahmad
Murtaza F. Sutarwalla, Esq.
Sophia Bajwa, Esq.
Jason E. Beesinger
Law Offices of Midhat Syed
*Individuals are not signing on behalf of their institutions/organization. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.
Houston is the most diverse city in the nation and nearly one in four Houstonians is foreign-born. Houstonians and our elected leaders recognize that our diversity of culture, language, and ethnicities make Houston a better place; yet SB4 – which Governor Abbot signed into law yesterday – targets our diverse communities and makes us less safe by proposing civil and criminal penalties for cities like Houston that have chosen to prioritize protect our communities instead of enforcing federal immigration law.
SB4 penalizes cities and counties for setting policies that prevent officials from asking about immigration status – this is a mistake. The Houston Police Department has long recognized that policing requires community support and assistance. Houston’s policy generally prohibits officers from asking about immigration status and has been in place for over two decades in recognition of the disastrous impact on police-community trust when police are perceived to be acting as immigration enforcers.
Trust is already beginning to erode as national anti-immigrant rhetoric has spiked deportation fears among immigrant communities, resulting in a sharp decrease in crime reporting. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo recently announced that the number of Hispanics reporting crime has sharply decreased compared to the same period last year: rape reporting is down 42.8% and violent crime reporting is down 13%. Unfettered crime can quickly spread across neighborhoods, not distinguishing immigration status. SB4 will force Houston to change our community-building policies by threatening fines and even the removal of elected officials.
Police rely on victims and witnesses to help solve crimes that afflict all members of our communities. We are all less safe when immigrants are too afraid to come forward, or are deported and unable to provide eyewitness testimony. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is “concerned that Senate Bill 4 could limit our ability to address a myriad of local safety priorities – such as rape, murder and human trafficking to elder abuse and the challenges of mental health in our criminal justice system.” Houston’s Police Chief agrees that the local enforcement of immigration law diverts limited resources needed to prevent crimes.
Victims of domestic and gender-based violence are likely to feel the impact of this law most severely, as it will be another barrier among the many that immigrant women face in reporting crime. In addition to fearing retribution by violent partners and navigating an unfamiliar system, immigrant victims will worry that they or someone else in their household might be deported as a result of calling the police.
SB4 does not create exceptions to the policy for domestic violence shelters, nor does it exclude universities, pre-kindergarten schools, homeless shelters, and other sensitive locations. The national anti-immigrant sentiment has already led some Houston families to keep their children home from school and to avoid going to the doctor out of fear.
In addition to the many unintended consequences, SB4 intends to increase the number of individuals transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. When someone is apprehended by ICE, they are held in a detention facility while their case goes before a judge, unless they are eligible for and can pay a bond.
It is well documented that detention makes it more difficult to get legal representation. In the Houston area’s three detention centers, a mere 13% of detained persons were represented compared with two thirds of those not in detention. This year, only 3% of detained cases were granted relief from deportation. This is not because of a lack of relief, but a lack of counsel – studies have shown that having an attorney makes it three times and up to fourteen times more likely to win a case. Unfortunately, only three of Houston’s 20 non-profit legal services providers have the resources to provide even limited representation to Houston’s three (soon to be four) detention centers.
This law raises numerous constitutional issues and it is likely that lawsuits will soon be filed. After Arizona passed a “show me your papers” law in 2010, a federal judge struck down parts of the law since only Congress has power to create immigration law. Legal experts say this problem exists with SB4, particularly the requirement that local jails comply with immigration “detainer” requests that federal officials have said are voluntary. Further, a federal court recently held that ICE detainers issued without a warrant are unlawful and a pending case in Bexar County, Texas challenges the constitutionality of detainers. There are also concerns the law will lead to racial profiling, as occurred in Arizona – the rampant racial profiling did not stop even after a judicial order forbade it. Other legal experts argue that SB4 broad and vague provisions could violate the First Amendment.
The impact of SB4 may be difficult to separate from the impact that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have already had on Houstonians, though no doubt it will worsen an already dire situation. Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative partners hear from immigrants who are worried about their safety and that of their families every day.
For a more extensive legal opinion as to the constitutionality of SB4, please see this analysis from Professor Geoff Hoffman, University of Houston Law Center.
HILSC and the amazing staff and volunteers who comprise our network have been addressing community concerns through “Know Your Rights” presentations, family preparedness workshops, and an immigrant rights hotline, in addition to their ongoing services: consultations, case assistance, naturalization workshops, deportation defense, and more. However, organizations are already overwhelmed and at capacity. They could use your help in volunteering or donating today.
The Collaborative plays a critical convening, coordinating, and communication role in the legal services community. Through our work, more immigrants are receiving low-cost, high-quality legal services for immigration issues in Houston. Our work has become even more urgent in 2019, as the policy environment in which we work becomes increasingly hostile to immigrants. We have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for immigration legal services and education & outreach efforts in Houston’s diverse immigrant communities.