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16998Fw: Courthouse News reports on the Artesia lawsuit filed today: Refugees Fight Obama's Policies at Remote Immigration Prison

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  • Romi Elnagar
    Aug 23, 2014

      Courthouse News reports on the Artesia lawsuit filed today.  The editor at Courthouse News, Robert Kahn, worked with asylum seekers at the Oakdale Detention Center in the 1980s.  His book, Other People's Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade (Westview, 1996) is required reading on the shameful history of that period: 

           WASHINGTON (CN) - Ten mothers and children sued the United States on constitutional grounds Friday, claiming their imprisonment in the government's new immigration center in Artesia, N.M., 200 miles from the nearest large city, denies them due process, intentionally denies them access to legal counsel, and that the Obama administration's "detain and deport" policy violates the Convention Against Torture.
           Major immigration law offices across the country signed the 60-page federal lawsuit, representing Honduran and Salvadoran mothers and children who are imprisoned at Artesia.
           Attorneys for the refuge-seekers claim that the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement deliberately chose the remote site to imprison immigrant mothers and children to deny them access to counsel, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Convention Against Torture, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Fifth Amendment.
           The Obama administration opened up the remote prison in response to a perceived influx of immigrant children, particularly at the Texas-Mexico border.
           Border Patrol statistics show that undocumented immigration actually is at a 40-year low; the only increase this year has been in the percentage of immigrants who are children, and/or from Honduras.
           Lack of prisons to hold children, and political protests against immigrants, led the Obama administration to open the Artesia center to hold children and mothers, and speed up adjudications on their requests for refugee status.
           Attorneys for the American Immigration Council, one of the law offices representing the mothers and children, said in a statement Friday that the Obama administration is systematically violating laws by policies that have:
           "Categorically prejudged asylum cases with a 'detain-and-deport' policy, regardless of individual circumstances.
           "Drastically restricted communication with the outside world for the women and children held at the remote detention center, including communication with attorneys. If women got to make phone calls at all, they were cut off after three minutes when consulting with their attorneys. This makes it impossible to prepare for a hearing or get legal help.
           "Given virtually no notice to detainees of critically important interviews used to determine the outcome of asylum requests. Mothers have no time to prepare, are rushed through their interviews, are cut off by officials throughout the process, and are forced to answer traumatic questions, including detailing instances of rape, while their children are listening.
           "Led to the intimidation and coercion of the women and children by immigration officers, including being screamed at for wanting to see a lawyer."
           American Immigration Council attorney Melissa Crow called it "an assault on due process."
           The 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, some of them widows, describe death threats from violent drug gangs who control neighborhoods in Honduras and El Salvador, whose notoriously corrupt police agencies allegedly told the mothers they could do nothing to protect them.
           The lawsuit states: "This is an immigration case involving life and death stakes.
           "Plaintiffs are mothers and children from El Salvador and Honduras who, like many other Central Americans, have fled persecution in their countries of origin.
           "The United States government arrested plaintiff mothers and children shortly after they crossed into the United States near the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and brought them to a makeshift detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. The detention facility is profoundly isolated, miles away from any major cities and lawyers. The closest major metropolitan area is El Paso, Texas, which is close to 200 miles away.
           "Under the Immigration and Nationality Act ('INA') and its implementing regulations- as well as under the Due Process Clause - plaintiffs have an indisputable right to seek asylum and related relief, and to a fair hearing to present their claims. But that process at Artesia has been anything but fair, and falls far short of the government's obligations under existing law. Instead, the government has created what can only be described as a 'deportation mill' that is sending mothers and children back to their home countries to face serious harm without ever having given them a meaningful opportunity to present their claims."
           In response to the perceived "crisis," the administration "imposed a more stringent - and unlawful - standard to deny meritorious claims presented by mothers and children detained at Artesia," the complaint states.
           It continues: "Further, the government has instituted various procedural changes to the process, which are designed to limit the number of successful claims. The government's new policies make it much more difficult for detained women and children to present and substantiate their claims to asylum or other forms of immigration relief, and to seek the assistance of counsel in doing so. Under these new policies, families detained at Artesia are almost completely cut off from communications with the outside world, provided insufficient information and in some cases no information about their rights under the INA, affirmatively precluded from effectively contacting and receiving assistance from attorneys, and ultimately forced to navigate pro se a complex immigration process that is heavily weighted against them. Detained mothers are subjected to a highly truncated process in which they are provided virtually no notice of when critical proceedings are scheduled to occur; asylum officers and immigration judges rush them to answer questions regarding the violence, death threats, and sexual abuse they fear - all while their children are listening; their children are ordered removed without being individually screened to determine whether they have a separate basis for fearing persecution; and their claims are denied for failing to properly respond to questions about their asylum claims phrased in complicated legal terminology.
           "The asylum process at Artesia and its consequence - a dramatic drop in the number of families who are found eligible to apply for asylum - is the direct result of policies announced at the highest levels of our government. As Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has stated: '[O]ur message to this group is simple: we will send you back.' That sentiment has been echoed publicly by others in the administration, who have stated that the overwhelming majority of these Central American women and children do not have meritorious asylum claims - a political and policy-level judgment they reached before the detainees had an opportunity to present their individual cases. Thus, rather than adjudicate these cases individually based on the actual facts presented at a fair asylum interview, the government has categorically prejudged the claims of these Central American women and children, and decided - in advance - that these cases are not meritorious and that these women and children must be deported. That message has been heard loud and clear in Artesia. As a result, plaintiffs and numerous other women and children with obviously credible claims have been ordered removed to countries where they face danger. Indeed, the passage rate for the Artesia families is 37.8 percent, compared with the nationwide average grant rate of 77 percent under the preexisting procedures.
           "The government's new asylum process at Artesia patently violates the INA and its implementing regulations, as well as the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment."
           The lawsuit recapitulates major class actions filed 30 years ago, under the Reagan administration, which also built or contracted out immigration prisons to hold people fleeing the wars in Central America. One of those lawsuits - American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh - overturned more judicial decisions than any other ruling in U.S. history.
           Then, as now, the Justice Department was accused of isolating refuge-seekers in remote prisons and using abusive processes to deny them legal counsel and speed up their deportation.
           Then, as now, attorneys who shuttled to the isolated prison to try to represent refugees on an emergency basis, described systematic abuses of due process.
           The Obama administration has barred reporters from court proceedings at Artesia, claiming that such a bar is standard procedure, though it is not.
           The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the "system of expedited removal" at Artesia is illegal, an injunction prohibiting it and demanding corrective action, and an order directing the defendants to give the mothers and children "a meaningful opportunity to apply for asylum," with "a reasonable amount of advance time to obtain and meet with counsel" to prepare for their removal hearings, and an order that the government "return any deported plaintiff to the United States for new
           proceedings that comply with the law."
           Lead counsel is Matthew Price with Jenner & Block, of Washington, D.C. 

      On Friday, August 22, 2014 12:21:25 PM UTC-6, Molly Molloy wrote:
      See below links to the full complaint as well as excerpts from lawyers' testimony at the American Immigration Council's Artesia Resource Pagehttp://www.legalactioncenter.org/litigation/artesia-resource-page

      Groups Sue U.S. Government over Life-Threatening Deportation Process 
      Against Mothers and Children Escaping Extreme Violence in Central America

      August 22, 2014

      Washington D.C. — The American Immigration Council, American Civil Liberties Union National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and National Immigration Law Center today sued the federal government to challenge its policies denying a fair deportation process to mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the United States seeking safety.

      The groups filed the case on behalf of mothers and children locked up at an isolated detention center in Artesia, New Mexico — hours from the nearest major metropolitan area. The complaint charges the Obama administration with enacting a new strong-arm policy to ensure rapid deportations by holding these mothers and their children to a nearly insurmountable and erroneous standard to prove their asylum claims, and by placing countless hurdles in front of them.

      "These mothers and their children have sought refuge in the United States after fleeing for their lives from threats of death and violence in their home countries," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "U.S. law guarantees them a fair opportunity to seek asylum. Yet, the government's policy violates that basic law and core American values — we do not send people who are seeking asylum back into harm's way. We should not sacrifice fairness for speed in life-or-death situations."

      According to the complaint, the Obama administration is violating long-established constitutional and statutory law by enacting policies that have:
      • Categorically prejudged asylum cases with a "detain-and-deport" policy, regardless of individual circumstances.
      • Drastically restricted communication with the outside world for the women and children held at the remote detention center, including communication with attorneys. If women got to make phone calls at all, they were cut off after three minutes when consulting with their attorneys. This makes it impossible to prepare for a hearing or get legal help. 
      • Given virtually no notice to detainees of critically important interviews used to determine the outcome of asylum requests. Mothers have no time to prepare, are rushed through their interviews, are cut off by officials throughout the process, and are forced to answer traumatic questions, including detailing instances of rape, while their children are listening.
      • Led to the intimidation and coercion of the women and children by immigration officers, including being screamed at for wanting to see a lawyer.
      "Fast-tracking the deportations of women and children from immigration detention is an assault on due process. There is no way that justice can be served when so many people are being rushed through the system without any real opportunity to assert claims for relief. What we are seeing in Artesia is nothing less than a sham process that values expediency over justice," said Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council.

      The plaintiffs include: 
      •  A Honduran mother who fled repeated death threats in her home country to seek asylum in the United States with her two young children. The children's father was killed by a violent gang that then sent the mother and her children continuous death threats.When she went to the police they told her that they could not do anything to help her. It is common knowledge where she lived that the police are afraid of the gang and will do nothing to stop it.
      • A mother who fled El Salvador with her two children because of threats by the gang that controls the area where they lived. The gang stalked her 12-year-old child every time he left the house and threatened kidnapping. She fears that if the family returns to El Salvador, the gang will kill her son. Some police officers are known to be corrupt and influenced by gangs. The mother says she knows of people who have been killed by gang members after reporting them to police. 
      • A mother who fled El Salvador with her 10-month old son after rival gangs threatened to kill her and her baby. One gang tried to force the mother to become an informant on the activities of another gang, and when she refused, told her she had 48 hours to leave or be killed.
      "The women and children detained in Artesia have endured brutal murders of loved ones, rapes, death threats, and similar atrocities that no mother or child ever should have to endure, and our government is herding them through the asylum process like cattle," said Trina Realmuto, an attorney at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. "The deportation-mill in Artesia lacks even the most basic protections, like notice and the opportunity to be heard, that form the cornerstone of due process in this country."
      The lawsuit, M.S.P.C. v. Johnson, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Co-counsel in this case includes the law firms of Jenner & Block, and Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale, LLP; and the ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and ACLU of the Nation's Capital.

      "Any mother will do whatever it takes to make sure her children are safe from harm's way," said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. "Our plaintiffs are no different: they have fled their homes to protect their children, only to find that the U.S. deportation system is intent upon placing them back in the dangerous situations they left. We are filing this lawsuit today to ensure that each mother is able to have her fair day in court, and that we are not sending children and their mothers back to violence or their deaths."

      The complaint, M.S.P.C. v. Johnson, and attorney delcarations are available on our Artesia Resource Page.

      For press inquiries, contact:

      Wendy Feliz, American Immigration Council, 202-507-7524wfeliz@...
      Inga Sarda-Sorensen, American Civil Liberties Union, 212-549-2666media@...
      Adela de la Torre, National Immigration Law Center, 213-400-7822delatorre@...
      Paromita Shah, National Immigration Project/NLG, 202-271-2286paromita@...

      Last Updated: 
       Fri, Aug 22, 2014
      Today, the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the National Immigration Law Center, in collaboration with Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale and Jenner & Block, sued the government to stop deportations at DHS’ new family detention facility in Artesia, NM.  The lawsuit calls Artesia a “deportation mill,” created to send Central American mothers and children home to face certain harm, without any meaningful opportunity to be heard.  These women and children have a right to apply for asylum and to the assistance of counsel, among other protections.  Their heartbreaking stories of violence, death, rape, and other abuse suggest that the vast majority deserve to stay in this country. 
      But the lawsuit alleges that government officials created Artesia to limit successful asylum claims, whether or not such individuals would face persecution in their home countries.  DHS did this by creating a new, more stringent “expedited removal” system that results in the denial of meritorious asylum claims.  The new expedited removal policy was outlined by President Obama in a June 30 letter to Congress that directed DHS to take “aggressive steps to surge resources to our Southwest border to deter both adults and children from this dangerous journey … and quickly return unlawful migrants to their home countries.” As Artesia’s supervisor yelled one day to a room full of families, “Our job is to get them deported.” 
      The government’s new policies at Artesia also create a host of procedural obstacles for asylum applicants, in violation of due process, the immigration statute, and the governing regulations. This resource page collects [number] declarations of lawyers who have first-hand experience trying to provide effective representation to Artesia detainees, as well as lawyers who observed credible fear reviews in Arlington Immigration Court.  Together, these affidavits paint a bleak picture.  As lawyer Daniel Rodgers said, “My government is crushing the spirts of brave women and their children through a combination of denial of due process and stressful living conditions."

      Read the Press Release

      Read the Full Complaint

      Excerpts from Declarations

      When [my client] discussed her fear of gangs in El Salvador, the asylum officer seemed impatient and began to rush through the interview.
      Every woman I met was forced to care for her children and discuss her case simultaneously.… Mothers were forced to recount very traumatic and upsetting details of rape, violence and kidnapping in the presence of their young children. Women were forced to attend court hearings in front of immigration judges with their children running around the room.
      Each and every applicant that I met with or represented during an official proceeding with an Immigration Judge or asylum officer had a child or children with them at the time, often in their laps. Many of the children were sick, and the mothers were often required to recount gruesome acts of violence, sometimes rape, while holding or trying to care for their children. There was no one to care for the children or any place that they could be left while these proceedings were taking place.
      In every case I reviewed where the detainee requested to speak with an attorney, the asylum officer merely asked, "Do you want to continue or not?" In none of the interview summaries I reviewed did the asylum officer state that the person could postpone the interview in order to obtain legal representation.
      The women reported to me that they were subject to various types of abuse. They overheard ICE officers refer to them as animals. During mealtime, one woman overheard an ICE officer say, “Look at the animals eat.” Women stated that ICE officers yelled at them and told them that they shouldn’t take food out of turn. I also observed mothers using small hand towels to keep their children warm in the over-air conditioned detention facility.
      [T]he credible fear interview I attended was conducted like an affirmative asylum interview, rather than a credible fear interview. Based upon over 13 years of experience with the asylum process, I believe my client established her credible fear within the first 45 minutes of a more than three­ hour interview. The asylum officer asked questions which were designed to get my client to identify her particular social group. This level of questioning was unnecessary in light of the past persecution to which she had already testified, as well as her articulated fear of future persecution.
      I told the ICE officer I wanted to speak to the supervisor-in-charge . . . [The supervisor] stood directly in front of me and vociferously and loudly proclaimed to me (and everyone in the room) that “I want you to know that all of these people are going to be deported” and that “Our job is to get them deported and there’s maybe one in 1,000 entitled to stay in the United States, and the rest are going to go.” 
      In one case, the asylum officer made a negative credible fear finding where a woman claimed that the man who murdered the father of her [children] had threatened to murder her children. The woman did not reveal all the details of the threats because the boys were in the room with her at the time. 
      In one case, an asylum officer told a woman that the domestic violence she suffered several years ago was irrelevant to her claim, even though she was fleeing continued persecution on the part of her abuser.
      Some of the immigration judges conducting negative [credible fear interview] review hearings via tele-video in Artesia have taken the position that attorneys are not allowed to speak during those hearings.
      [M]any women reported to me that they had very limited access to telephones. They had to wait in long lines to make calls, and their calls were limited to three minutes. They reported they were forced to clean in order to “earn” their phone calls. Some women told me that they were denied calls when the ICE officers were upset with them. The women’s inability to make phone calls limited the capacity of attorneys to properly prepare clients and precluded clients from calling their attorneys to give them updated case information.
      While I was meeting with my client, there was an ICE officer present in the room the entire time. I was not able to meet with my client in a confidential place.
      I observed an attitude among the ICE officers that reflected a belief that none of the detainees had viable legal claims, and that all of them would be detained for a relatively brief period, and then removed.
      Despite the fact that many children have chronic diarrhea and fevers, the mothers I met with consistently told me that the medical clinic at FLETC would only tell the mothers to give their children water to help them get well. In fact, when I was at the FLETC, another attorney on our team observed a child who was so overcome with fever that her skin was incredibly red, almost purple, and the child was limp in the mother’s arms. 
      The children and babies also did not have adequate clothing. I saw multiple babies and toddlers without any type of blankets, shivering while their mothers held them close to their bodies for warmth. The mothers used tiny washcloths as makeshift blankets. I told multiple officers that I would buy blankets for the babies because they were getting sicker and they were shivering, and I was told that they would not allow me to give the blankets to the women and their children.
      [An ICE Supervisor] told me it was his job to “move these people through here.” When I tried again to explain that my client had a positive credible fear finding, he said that did not matter because he has seen immigration judges reverse such findings. I asked whether he would consider bond for anyone, and he said no.
      The attorney desks were located about 10-15 feet away from the ICE officers and so could easily be overheard by them. ICE officers approached us every hour, even during client meetings, to conduct head counts. In addition to the ICE officers, other detainees and their children (who were with their mothers at all times) could overhear attorney-client conversations, which were supposed to be confidential.
      We were unable to speak directly to detainees who had not requested to speak with us and/or whose names we did not have already because ICE did not want us "soliciting" clients. We explained that we were volunteers and that we were not charging for our services, but we were still not allowed to speak to anyone not on our list. We provided a list of names to ICE, but we were unable to see a majority of the women on the list either because ICE was unable to locate them or because they were in a consular, asylum, or court interview without counsel.
      I have been able to speak with [my client] only sporadically because the ICE officers at the Artesia facility do not permit her to use a phone at any set times, and when she is given access, permit her to remain on the phone only for short periods of time. During my first phone call with [my client] . . . I was able to speak with her for only 9 minutes and 39 seconds when she called me after hours at 6:56 pm EST. After that, an ICE agent forced her to end the call. The approximately ten additional conversations I had with Jane were similar. I had great difficulty preparing her case given the erratic and insufficient time that ICE agents allowed her to use the phone. I received a call from Jane, who told me that ICE was trying to force her to agree to deportation and saying that she could go to jail for ten years and be separated from her son if she did not sign for travel documents.
      I am 62 years old. When I left Artesia and was driving to the airport to fly back to Alaska, I started crying in the car. I do not recall the last time I cried.
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