IJC: February 2018 Newsletter

IJC: February 2018 Newsletter

Immigrant Justice Corps Announces 2018 Justice Fellows

25 top law graduates chosen for selective fellowship to represent immigrants fighting deportation

 

We are excited to announce our 2018 Justice Fellowship class, a select group of talented and promising new lawyers who will represent immigrants fighting deportation and seeking lawful status and citizenship.

 

Twenty-five graduates from top law schools from around the country were chosen from an applicant pool of 158 law graduates for the prestigious fellowship at IJC, which was conceived of by Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and incubated by The Robin Hood Foundation in 2013.

 

The new class of fellows brings a wealth of immigration experience.  As befits a national program, they are graduates of the leading law schools with exceptional immigration law programs, including: Yale, NYU, Columbia, UC Berkeley, Boston University, Fordham, American University, Case Western, University of Florida, Cardozo, St. Johns, Pace, CUNY, Quinnipiac, Northeastern, Loyola, Chapman, and William & Mary.  All the new Justice Fellows are bilingual – 80% of the class speak Spanish; in addition, the new class of fellows speak Arabic, Cantonese, French, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Mandarin, and Urdu.  Almost half of the class speak more than three languages.

 

The fellows will serve for two years in and around New York City – including the lower Hudson Valley, upstate New York, Long Island, and northern New Jersey – as well as in New Haven, Connecticut, San Antonio, Texas, Miami, Florida and Baltimore, Maryland. They will be placed at top legal services agencies, where they will join the 2017 class of 26 Justice Fellows already in the field.  You can read more about the Class of 2018 Justice Fellows here.

 

 

IJC is Four Years Old!

On February 14th,  Immigrant Justice Corps’ celebrated its official 4th birthday.  What a difference 4 years make…

 

Section 1

Featured Fellow Series

Immigrant Justice Corps is excited to begin a monthly “featured fellow” series, introducing you to, and profiling the work of, a different fellow each month.

 

AMANDEEP SINGH

Fellowship: Justice Fellow

Host Organization: Catholic Migration Services

Languages Spoken:  English, Arabic, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu

Law School: NYU

“I’m serving underserved communities who are not very well plugged into the non-profit immigration sector. As a result, IJC is able to reach immigrant groups in a way that has not previously existed… There are a ton of Chinese, South Asian, and Arab populations that need services but instead are going to private attorneys they cannot afford or are being victimized by fraud. IJC is really addressing an important gap in services.”

 

The youngest child of immigrants from Punjab, India, Amandeep grew up living in California, India and North Carolina. During college, he spent his first summer internship at the Sikh Coalition working with the Punjabi community in Richmond Hill, Queens on campaigns and community mobilization. Afterwards, he spent several years in the Middle East studying Arabic and working with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights on human rights issues and conducting research on discrimination against refugees and undocumented migrants. As a law student, he participated in a semester long Immigrant Defense Clinic and interned with The Legal Aid Society where he worked with detained clients in removal proceedings. He also worked with the International Refugee Assistance Project assisting Iraqi refugees seeking admission to the U.S. He is currently placed at Catholic Migration Services in Brooklyn, where he represents mostly South Asian and Arab immigrants or asylum seekers.

 

What motivated you to join IJC?

When I graduated from law school, I wanted to serve the Arab and South Asian communities in NYC, two populations that are severely under-served by non-profit immigration service providers and particularly vulnerable to government harassment or discriminatory immigration enforcement. This lack of access to counsel results in individuals from these two populations being defrauded by non-lawyers or low-quality private attorneys charging high fees. Secondly, these individuals are more vulnerable to law enforcement harassment, such as FBI visits with asylum applicants from select Muslim countries. And lastly, they are often subjected to unnecessary security checks, creating preposterous delays, and heightened review of their claim.

 

I believe these communities require immigration attorneys with greater cultural understanding to help them articulate and pursue their substantive legal claims. Oftentimes the service provider they meet with do not speak Arabic or lack  a cultural understanding of what happened to them in their home countries as well as what they’re going through in their adopted country. The only attorneys in their community are often private attorneys and they have to borrow money from family to pay the fees. Sometimes their desperation makes them more vulnerable to immigration fraud.

 

The other day I was helping an Egyptian client who missed the filing deadline for his immigration benefit application because the attorney he hired in his neighborhood to assist him never filed the applications. Instead the attorney gave him fake receipt notices and work permits giving him the false sense that he had a pending application and work authorization.  The client was now facing possible denial of his application and initiation of removal proceedings because he missed the application filing deadline.

 

What are your main responsibilities at your host organization?

I work in the removal defense project at Catholic Migration Services, so I defend people in removal proceedings. I also assist immigrant clients complete and submit affirmative applications for lawful status. Removal proceedings meaning an individual facing deportation and we assert a defense to removal, such as asylum. Affirmative applications meaning an individual who is not in removal proceedings but is out of lawful status or their status is about to expire and we help them apply for adjustment of status or some other humanitarian visa. I assist clients with U-visas for victims of crimes, Violence Agains Women Act (VAWA) for victims of domestic violence, and T-visas, for people who have been victims of severe trafficking.

 

What has been the most challenging part of the Fellowship so far?

Firstly, because most of my clients are South Asian or Arab, there are a lot of delays in security checks and it seems that my clients are held to different standards compared to other people coming from other parts of the world. I think Central American claims are also treated differently, but it is frustrating that my clients are held to higher standards for proving their asylum claims or proving that they’re not a threat to this country simply because they are South Asian or Arab.

 

Secondly, the mental health issues are really tough. A lot of my clients come to the U.S. escaping some form of persecution in their home country and therefore, usually suffer from trauma and maybe even a related mental illness. As an attorney, I do not always have the resources or training necessary to serve a mentally ill client. Any case can become much more difficult to manage due to mental health issues, sometimes it affects the client’s ability to work with me or articulate their story. Also, there are not a lot of mental health providers who speak Arabic or Urdu.

 

What has been your greatest success?

I won asylum for two people affirmatively and one person defensively who was in removal proceedings and that felt really great. It was really nice  after the removal proceedings to see that my client’s general view on life had shifted. He suddenly realized that he could do something with his life – he didn’t have to remain in his unsatisfying job despite his advanced education; he could go back to school or do whatever else he wanted. He could see that his socioeconomic mobility and general avenues towards a better life suddenly opened up because his immigration status had changed. I think a lot of us do this work implicitly or explicitly linking immigration status to general life fulfillment or socio-economic mobility, so it was amazing to see that demonstrated so tangibly.

 

In your view, what is the most pressing issue in immigration right now?

In the age of Trump, everything seems pressing, but for me, because I have a lot of clients from Muslim majority countries, the implicit discrimination against people from that background and the threat of discriminatory enforcement is always hanging over us. By discriminatory enforcement, I mean arrests, raids, or other targeting of Muslims for detention or deportation solely because of their religious and ethnic background.

 

How do you envision your future after the Fellowship?

I would like to continue serving these communities, doing removal defense and asylum. We are at a historical moment where immigration is a key civil liberties battleground, and I hope to continue contributing however I can towards the dignity, rights, and empowerment of these communities.

 

Why is it important for IJC to exist?

I’m serving underserved communities who are not very well plugged into the non-profit immigration sector. As a result, IJC is able to reach out to these groups in a way that has not previously existed. I think it is super critical because otherwise all these organizations will only want to hire Spanish speaking attorneys, since that is the majority of their clientele. What they don’t realize is that there are many more non-Spanish speaking immigrants in their communities that they are not aware of because they don’t have attorneys who speak their language. There are a ton of Chinese, South Asian, and Arab populations in New York City that need services but instead are going to private attorneys they cannot afford or are being victimized by fraud. IJC is really addressing an important gap in services.

 

What would you tell someone who is considering applying for the IJC Fellowship?

I would tell them to apply because I have had a really great experience. Without an organization that has a mission like IJC’s, I would not have had the opportunity to provide legal services to under-served communities in such a concentrated way. It is also great training for new attorneys. I have gotten very substantive work experience on a diverse caseload, with excellent supervision. Thus, I have experienced tremendous skills development and would certainly recommend other law graduates to apply for the program.

 

What are your passions outside of work?

I am training to be a yoga instructor. I think what I want to do with that is serve communities who experience a lot of trauma but don’t have access to a $20 yoga class, particularly focusing on refugees and the incarcerated. A lot of my clients have serious trauma, but are not interested in the more western “talk therapy” model of self-care and may be more open to meditation or yoga. I am also a big fan of Middle Eastern or South Asian music and literature.

 

Section 2

 

Fellow Game Changers: Scott Coomes & Leah Glowacki

The work of our Community and Justice Fellows change the lives of immigrants and their families every day.  Sometimes their work is a complete game changer.  Every month, with our Fellow Game Changer feature, we bring you stories from the front lines – putting the spotlight on our fellows’ fight for justice on behalf of low-income immigrants.

In May 2016, IJC Justice Fellow, Scott Coomes, met Alex, a young man from Guatemala who entered the US in 2012.  At age 7, Alex escaped his abusive family home, and for several years, lived with friends’ and acquaintances in Guatemala.  When Alex turned 15, members of the dangerous MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs began targeting him for recruitment.  Gang members attempted to forcibly enlist him.  When Alex resisted their efforts, they attempted to kill him.  Fearing for his life, Alex fled Guatemala for the United States at age 18.

 

IJC Justice Fellow Alumnus, Scott Coomes. Photo Credit: Scott Heins/Gothamist

After a thorough interview and research of asylum law related to gang violence, Scott was uncertain if Alex could prevail on an asylum claim.  Moreover, due to the severe physical and emotional trauma Alex experienced in Guatemala, he was unable to share many details about the trauma he suffered from his childhood. Scott determined that Alex was also eligible for a humanitarian visa – Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) – for children under 21 years of age abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents where there is no possibility of reunification with one or both parents. Scott got to work immediately since Alex was 20 years old and would be ineligible for SIJS after he turned 21.

 

Scott filed a guardianship petition and motion for special findings orders in Nassau County Family Court.   Unfortunately, Alex’s family court hearing did not go well. Alex had a challenging time testifying in open court about the abuse he experienced in Guatemala.  Despite Scott’s zealous advocacy, the judge denied the grant of the special findings orders required to support Alex’s SIJS case before the immigration benefit agency.

 

With Alex days away from turning 21, Scott filed a precautionary Form I-360 benefit petition without the special findings orders with USCIS to preserve Alex’s eligibility for SIJS.  Because Alex was 20, Scott was concerned he would age out of SIJS.  With the assistance of IJC Supervising Attorney, Harold Solis, Scott also appealed the family court judge’s denial to the New York Appellate Division, Second Department.

 

Determined to do all he could to assist Alex, Scott also filed an asylum application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to preserve Alex’s status as an Unaccompanied Minor Child.  This ensured that Alex would be interviewed at the asylum office, and if denied, have an opportunity to re-litigate his claim before an immigration judge.

 

IJC Justice Fellow, Leah Glowacki and IJC Supervising Attorney, Harold Solis.

Alex received a hearing notice for his asylum case just as Scott was completing his IJC fellowship.  The case was reassigned to incoming Justice Fellow, Leah Glowacki.  While preparing for Alex’s interview, Leah received the great news that the Appellate Division, Second Department had granted Alex’s SIJS order clearing the way for USCIS to approve or deny his pending SIJS application.

 

Days later, Alex testified at his asylum interview.  Two weeks after the interview, his asylum officer notified Leah that Alex would have to be re-interviewed.  The asylum interview/re-interview process is at the complete discretion of the asylum officer on the case.  Leah and Alex waited anxiously for further information from his asylum officer regarding the scheduling of the second interview.  After eight months of not receiving any responses to emails and calls, Leah wrote to the asylum officer requesting an update on the case.  A few days later, the officer recommended approval of Alex’s asylum application – no second interview needed.  Leah shared the great news with Alex over a birthday cake, a couple of days before his 22nd birthday.  Meanwhile, his SIJS application is still pending before USCIS.

 

Scott’s appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, helped establish important case law precedent for both Alex and other unaccompanied minor children in New York.  Prior to Alex’s case, the prevailing New York law was that an appellate court had no jurisdiction to grant special findings orders unless the child was under 21 years of age.  In Alex’s case, the Court made an exception and granted the special findings orders, even though he was over 21 because, he aged out while his case was pending.  This significant decision has already helped IJC secure special findings orders for another unaccompanied minor child who was about to age out.

 

Want to support Leah’s important work?  Donate to her New York City United Airlines Half Marathon Fundraising campaign here.  All funds donated go directly to support the work of Immigrant Justice Corps Fellows.

 

#MeToo is an Immigration Issue

 

Illustration by Tara O’Brien @taraorbrienillustration

The national conversation about sexual harassment and assault has dominated the news cycle this winter – from scandals involving high-powered executives and celebrities to an outpouring of stories from women and men using the hashtag #MeToo.  However, missing throughout this current dialogue are the stories of a large group of vulnerable men and women – detained immigrants like Miranda, a client of IJC Justice Fellow Alumnus, Nabila Taj.

 

This January, Miranda and Nabila helped to amplify the  stories of these vulnerable men and women in The Outline’s exposé on asylum seekers sexually assaulted in U.S. detention centers.  The full article can be found here.

 

We Are Hiring!

IJC is hiring a  Director of Development. We would appreciate your input on candidates or sources for this position – you can reach us at info@justicecorps.org. Please feel free to share this job posting within your network. More details on the position can be found here.

 

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