This episode of CMSOnAir features an interview with Anna Gallagher, the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC). She explains how CLINIC supports lawyers across the country as they adapt to the fast-paced policy changes of the current administration. She also discusses her concerns about access to asylum on the US-Mexico border and CLINIC’s Estamos Unidos Asylum Project in Ciudad Juarez — a response to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” program.
Robert Barsky, Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, examines the legal responsibilities of the United States towards asylum seekers, on the 50th anniversary of the US's accession to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees....
This paper critiques US immigration and asylum policies from perspective of the author’s 46 years as a public servant. It also offers a taxonomy of the US immigration system by positing different categories of membership: full members of the “club” (US citizens); “associate members” (lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees); “friends” (non-immigrants and holders of temporary status); and, persons outside the club (the undocumented). It describes the legal framework that applies to these distinct populations, as well as recent developments in federal law and policy that relate to them. It also identifies a series of cross-cutting issues that affect these populations, including immigrant detention, immigration court backlogs, state and local immigration policies, and Constitutional rights that extend to non-citizens. It makes the following asylum reform proposals, relying (mostly) on existing laws designed to address situations of larger-scale migration:
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and, in particular, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should send far more Asylum Officers to conduct credible fear interviews at the border.
- Law firms, pro bono attorneys, and charitable legal agencies should attempt to represent all arriving migrants before both the Asylum Office and the Immigration Courts.
- USCIS Asylum Officers should be permitted to grant temporary withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) to applicants likely to face torture if returned to their countries of origin.
- Immigration Judges should put the asylum claims of those granted CAT withholding on the “back burner” — thus keeping these cases from clogging the Immigration Courts — while working with the UNHCR and other counties in the Hemisphere on more durable solutions for those fleeing the Northern Triangle states of Central America.
- Individuals found to have a “credible fear” should be released on minimal bonds and be allowed to move to locations where they will be represented by pro bono lawyers.
- Asylum Officers should be vested with the authority to grant asylum in the first instance, thus keeping more asylum cases out of Immigration Court.
- If the Administration wants to prioritize the cases of recent arrivals, it should do so without creating more docket reshuffling, inefficiencies, and longer backlogs.
Emma Winters: Welcome to CMSOnAir, the podcast on migration and refugee issues, brought to you by the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS). I’m Emma Winters, CMS’s Communications Coordinator. In this episode you will hear me speak with Anna Gallagher, the Executive Director of CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. She has practiced immigration and refugee law for more than three decades, working in the United States, Central America and Europe. We spoke at CMS’s office in February, before the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
During the podcast, you’ll hear us discuss the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — commonly called the “Remain in Mexico” program, as well as US asylum policies. Before the pandemic, these policies all presented enormous challenges to immigrant families. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified that impact. As of this release, all MPP cases are postponed until at least June 22. Those waiting for their asylum hearings must continue to wait in Mexican border cities without adequate shelter or space to observe social distancing guidelines. Additionally, an order from the Center for Disease Control has closed borders to all individuals without documentation, including asylum-seekers.
During the podcast, you’ll also hear Anna Gallagher share what gives her hope — in spite of the current administration’s exclusionary policies. Here’s our conversation from February.
Emma: Many of our listeners are familiar with CLINIC’s work, but for those who may not be, could you say a little bit about CLINIC’s mission and the scope of the organization?
Anna: Thank you so much for having me, I’m delighted to be here. CLINIC is an affiliate organization. We are a network. Our mission is to welcome the stranger by supporting organizations that build and deliver immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and migrants. We are a network of almost 400 nonprofits across the United States, including Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, other faith based organizations, and secular organizations that provide direct legal representation to immigrants and refugees in the United States. Also, now we have a project where we’re providing support and legal assistance directly to our immigrant brothers and sisters in Juarez. CLINIC generally does not do direct representation. We do A-to-Z—meaning, we support. An organization comes to us. They want to provide immigration legal services. We help them get off the ground. We give training in legal services. We have a hotline, which is especially hot these days, of lawyers who answer questions. We mentor cases. We step in where needed, for example in the Mississippi raids. When that happened, we had people involved in assisting the immigrants there to reopen their cases to remain in the United States. We do advocacy. We do great advocacy, before the administration. We do religious immigration services, so we apply for green cards and visas for religious workers. [We are] particularly concerned now with the travel ban and our Nigerian brothers and sisters, who are coming over to work with religious communities in the United States. So, I think that’s what we do, and I’m sure I’m missing something, but that’s it.
Emma: That’s quite a lot! Thank you for all your good work with CLINIC. I wanted to ask you a little more about the program in Ciudad Juarez that you mentioned that’s offering legal guidance to people there who are trying to seek asylum in the United States. What policies prompted CLINIC to start that program?
Anna: Great need and no one else was doing it. As I said, we generally don’t do operations on the ground; however, where there is a need and no one has stepped in to address that need, CLINIC will become involved. For example, we started in Tijuana in November 2018, when there were hundreds and hundreds, thousands of people coming to Tijuana seeking protection in the United States. There was the infamous tear-gassing incident of the migrants and the refugees. Hundreds of volunteers went to the border, many attorneys, and CLINIC stepped in and did the logistics. We got it organized. We sent one of our folks, Luis Guerra, down. He set up the center where we provided know your rights, intakes, consultations, did all the logistics to receive the volunteers and directed them to provide services to the migrants. We started there, and as we often do — consistent with our principle of subsidiarity — we pulled out when things started to solidify. We had another NGO come in, and they took it over. There was no need for CLINIC to do that [work anymore]. We stepped out because we support organizations in building and doing the work.
When the situation started in Juarez and thousands of people arrived and were in shelters and on the streets, one of our board members, Bishop Seitz, spoke with us and urged us to send folks there. That’s essentially what we did. There was no one else in Juarez, providing consultations, know your rights, or counseling on cases. We went there in August, and opened up operations in October. Since October, we have had a staff attorney, an accredited representative, and a volunteer coordinator. We visit several shelters. We go to where the people are. We do regular consultations. We help people prepare their cases, their initial filings for court. If they’re applying for asylum or protection, we help them fill out the application to go to court and file. We are slowly but surely developing a corps of volunteers. Anyone that’s interested in volunteering, Spanish speakers, wonderful if you have immigration experience, but if not, and you’re attorneys, paralegals, interpreters, mental health workers—please, go to our website cliniclegal.org and click on Estamos Unidos.
Emma: Thank you. What are your biggest concerns about the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or what’s come to be more commonly called the “Remain in Mexico” program?
Anna: My biggest concern is essentially it eliminates access to asylum and humanitarian protection on the border. Folks need to know: This is a man-made problem. This is a problem created by this administration. Under US law and under international law, [when] someone comes to our borders and they’re fleeing persecution and they’re afraid to return home, they have a right to ask for asylum in the United States or other forms of humanitarian protection. Usually what will happen, what should happen, is that they will be admitted, they’ll be detained, they’ll go through an initial screening process. Then there’s a determination on whether or not they’re a risk of flight if they’re placed in proceedings — meaning they don’t show up for their hearings — or if they’re a danger to the community. If they’re not either of those, they should be released. So there’s a system in place, we have an Immigration and Nationality Act, we have laws, we have policies, we have regulations to receive people—including large numbers of people—process them, admit them, and determine whether or not they should stay in this country. Essentially with this practice, everyone is forced to stay in Mexico, along the border, in a risky situation, facing physical danger, emotional danger, trauma.
For example, in Juarez—as of last month (January), and this changes all the time—there’s 12 registered shelters with the government. There are 15,000 people in Juarez. There are 60,000 people along the border. There is not sufficient bed space or safe places for all of the migrants, the forced migrants that are at the border seeking protection in the United States. In addition, in Juarez with 15,000 people, there’s only two organizations that advise on US-based protection systems and assist people in their applications. That’s us and HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). There are other organizations that will go in, but imagine you’re running a small law firm. You’re in Juarez. You have 15,000 people there, and they need help. Essentially what this administration has done, by preventing access to counsel and by refusing admission of this population that has a right to seek asylum, is they have eliminated access to asylum.
Emma: There have also been some new requirements that require people to seek asylum in certain countries they transit through, for instance, Guatemala, so how has that worked in concert with the MPP program?
Anna: Under the law — and again this changes and things happen along the border that shouldn’t happen, that are surprising, and that are not consistent with the law — people that are subject to MPP are all Spanish speakers arriving on the border, and now they have added Brazilians. So that category of people, if they come to the border or if they are caught after they cross illegally into the United States, they are issued notices to appear. [These] hearing notices [say] come to court, this is an MPP case, meaning you’re going to wait in Mexico. That’s what happens to that population.
There were safe third country agreements recently signed. The population [that is] already on the border and [that have] those MPP notices, they should remain at the border in order to be able to attend their MPP hearings. So that’s that population.
People that come to the United States, for example Hondurans and Salvadorans, pass through Guatemala, come through Mexico and do not seek asylum in Guatemala or Honduras, they can be turned back. The United States can “admit” them, meaning they let them in and then put them on planes and send them back to Guatemala, because they should apply for asylum in Guatemala. They signed these agreements last year. Recently for example in mid-January, they sent 143 Hondurans and Salvadorans back to Guatemala to seek asylum. According to the reports we have, there was only a small handful that applied for asylum in Guatemala. We are not sure what happened to the rest of the folks.
So really think about it: They’ve made this dangerous journey up through Mexico. They’re at the border living in very risky situations. They approach the border. The United States lets them in and sends them back to Guatemala, a country from which thousands and thousands of people are fleeing. They do not have a working asylum system. So, there’s no asylum along the southern border.
Emma: What are the prospects then for people who are subject to MPP? What are their chances of getting asylum or accessing the asylum system, having been cut off from legal support?
Anna: That’s our biggest concern. In El Paso, for example, the approval rate for asylum cases or other forms of humanitarian protection is 2 percent. That means 2 percent of people that go to court in El Paso, the Immigration Court in El Paso, and say “I’m afraid to go back home,” they let 2 percent of those people stay in. Everybody else is deported. For example in Juarez, there are 15,000 people. I was there at Christmas. I spent Christmas week there. I interviewed primarily Central Americans. Most were fleeing gang violence and in particular gang violence targeted at them. Also, [many were] women experiencing domestic violence. US law recognizes, under certain circumstances, that those sorts of cases qualify for protection. We should be very clear about that — despite the fact that there have been Attorney General decisions under this administration that suggest otherwise. The law clearly contemplates people fleeing from those situations have a right to be protected in the United States.
However, those cases are complex too — especially given this administration’s attitude towards them and how the immigration courts themselves are becoming weaker and weaker. So in order to prevail in those cases, people need lawyers, and they need good lawyers, and they need lawyers that are going to fight and understand the complexities of these cases. There are 15,000 people in Juarez, and two organizations there with less than a couple of attorneys, and then volunteers maybe in the hundreds. So the thing that we’re most concerned about is that the majority of people that are subject to MPP will not have access to counsel and will be deported. We will deport hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees back to their countries of persecution.
Emma: We have a policy update that’s part of our Migration Update. For a few months, I’ve been sending that update. It’s truly shocking to see how frequently these policies are changing. Have those changes made it more difficult for CLINIC to do its work and made it more difficult for those lawyers to adequately represent people?
Anna: Yes, yes, very much so. For example, for CLINIC in terms of our work, what we do is we advise. We have our hotline, the expert hotline. Our call numbers have increased monthly. We’re producing more webinars, more alerts, more updates and in large numbers. Every time something new comes out, we have almost 400 affiliates, we need to notify them immediately. We get the information out.
For example, with the public charge rule: As soon as the Supreme Court decision came out that it could be implemented (while legal challenges progress), we had a webinar. It was two or three days after. We had hundreds, five or six hundred, people signed up already. So that’s CLINIC.
The people we are the most concerned about are our affiliates, the accredited reps, the attorneys. Their jobs, because of all these changes and how complex they are and the implementation, their jobs are two to three times harder than before. And people are very afraid. Not only is their job two to three times harder because the information is coming fast at them, it’s not clear, things change, judges make mistakes, things are implemented wrong; but also the people that they serve are more and more traumatized and fearful and need much more attention than before.
Emma: What are your biggest concerns about the direction of immigration law and policy now?
Anna: I’m not going to answer that question. I am going to answer but with a positive. Then, I’ll explain my concerns. So one thing that makes me really happy is to see how states, cities, and local communities are coming together to accompany immigrants and refugees. They are creating laws and policies locally to say, “We’re not going to do this. We’re going to stand by our immigrant brothers and sisters.” That’s very positive for me and for my staff.
Also, litigators across the country. We actually have done quite a bit of litigation this last year — including on the public charge rule. We are filing litigation more and more, either as an organizational plaintiff or as council or co-council. We’ve also been filing amicus briefs with the Supreme Court. We’re doing that. The litigators are the first line of defense, and I’m really happy with them. As soon as something comes out, people are lined up and ready to file and say, “This is wrong. You can’t do this.” So I’m really positive about that.
In terms of concerns, I’m concerned that immigrants are always, despite which administration is in power, easily scapegoated. No matter what happens, it’s going to take quite a bit of time to unwind this and to turn this back. I’m very concerned about that. I’m concerned about my staff and the affiliates and how they handle it. It’s nonstop, and it’s distressing and they have more and more work, so I’m concerned about them. And frankly, I’m concerned about kids across America that live in mixed households. I’m a mother and a grandmother. I can’t imagine my granddaughter and my grandson worrying about their parents, that their parents might disappear tomorrow. So those are the sorts of things I’m concerned about.
Emma: Thank you for sharing about CLINIC’s work. We certainly appreciate and rely on it here at CMS.
Anna: Well, thank you so much Emma, it’s been a delight.
Emma Winters: You can learn about CLINIC, including volunteer opportunities, by visiting cliniclegal.org.
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