IJC: September 2018 NEWSLETTER

IJC: September 2018 NEWSLETTER


On Sunday, July 22, 2018, Amy Meselson, Managing Attorney at IJC, passed away. We honor her memory and the profound impact she made for immigrants throughout the country.

Amy had a unique talent. She was a rare combination of vision, practicality, experience, and integrity and had a deep and proven commitment to justice and service to others. Her life was exemplified by their values, as she fought tirelessly for immigrants throughout her career.

Amy joined IJC on July 2nd, 2018 and in less than two weeks we all felt her brilliance and impact as an attorney. A week after she joined IJC, Amy worked with one of our Fellows on a difficult asylum case that was granted days after her passing. Although she was only at IJC for a short time, we all have known her and admired her work since 2003, when she helped establish the first juvenile docket in the country at the New York immigration bar.

On behalf of IJC’s board, staff and Fellows, we thank all our friends and supporters who have kept Amy’s legacy alive by encouraging us to continue with our critical work and sending donations in her memory. We are forever grateful for your unwavering support.











Bringing in Reinforcements: We recently welcomed our 5th class of 25 talented Justice Fellows and 10 exceptional Community Fellows. The Fellows are graduates of leading universities and law schools, including Yale, NYU, Brown, Columbia, UC Berkeley, Northwestern, and American University. As in previous years, this pool of applicants came from all over the country, speaking more than ten different languages, and many themselves are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Repopulating the Immigration Bar: IJC recently graduated its third class of 25 Justice Fellows.  Ninety six percent have secured job placements in the immigration field in New York City, upstate New York, Austin, Houston- Texas, Miami- Florida and San Francisco- California. Collectively they will work on an estimated 600 complex immigration cases in the coming year

Expanding Access to Justice to Underserved Communities:  IJC is expanding its proven fellowship model to Miami, Baltimore and Virginia. In Miami, IJC will partner with Catholic Legal Services of Miami to start a detention/immigration court pilot program to increase representation for detained immigrants…  IJC   will also partner with the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition) to represent detained immigrants in Maryland and Virginia facilities. Low Bono Practice:  This fall, IJC is starting a pilot low bono practice in Jersey City, New Jersey. The “Center for Immigrant Representation” will augment IJC’s pro bono programs and will offer legal services at below market rates. It will serve as a training ground for Fellows and a staging ground for graduating Fellows interested in opening their own immigration law firm or starting an immigration-focused non-profit. The Center will be staffed by a supervising attorney, a 2015 Justice Fellow, a 2016 and 2018 Community Fellow, and an office manager.
By the Numbers:

  • 44,000 immigrants and their families assisted
  • Justice Fellows have won 87% of complex cases adjudicated
  • Community Fellows have won 95% of cases concluded before USCIS
  • IJC has saved immigrant families $2.9 million in application fees through fee waivers.



Board of Immigration Appeals:

Nick Phillips, Class of 2015 and Supervising Attorney at Prisoners Legal Services in Albany, won a pivotal appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals last week.  In Matter of J. M. ACOSTA, the Board ruled that “a conviction does not attain a sufficient degree of finality for immigration purposes until the right to direct appellate review on the merits of the conviction has been exhausted or waived.” This precedential decision will have a profound impact on thousands of immigration cases pending in immigration courts nationwide. 

Read full decision – https://go.usa.gov/xUhQC

New York Immigration Courts:

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned a Honduran woman’s asylum grant based on domestic violence. The AG’s decision not only overturned a decade old precedential decision but drastically curtailed asylum officers and immigration judges’ discretion to grant asylum based on violence by private actors including family and gang members.  Although this decision has impacted many Central American family cases, our Fellows continue to make creative and innovative arguments on behalf of their vulnerable and poor clients who have suffered domestic and gang violence. Representation does make a profound difference.


2016 Justice Fellow reports that she was successful in advocating for an Immigration Judge to grant withholding of removal to an indigenous Guatemalan youth. Withholding of removal is a limited form of relief for persons able to demonstrate there is more than a 50% chance that they will be persecuted in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  The judge was won over by Amelia’s creative advocacy and lawyering skills. The Government waived appeal and Amelia’s client can live in safety in the United States.


2017 Justice Fellow working on IJC’s Parents with Children Project reports that she won asylum based on gang violence in immigration court for her clients, a twenty-six-year-old mother and her two children from Honduras.


2017 Justice Fellow, won Asylum for a woman from Côte d’Ivoire this month. Halinka reports that her client, Ms. T., fled Côte d’Ivoire to the US in 2016 after being the victim of politically-motivated violence in 2011. She affirmatively applied for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in March 2017.


Soon thereafter, Ms. T. heard a rumor that Canada was granting immigrants refugee status. Scared about the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S., she applied for asylum at the Canadian border in August 2017. The Canadian authorities arrested her and transferred her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Halinka met Ms. T. while she was detained, under the Safe Third Country Agreement, at the Clinton County Jail in Upstate New York.


Ms. T. was released from detention in November 2017 after Halinka successfully argued for a reduction in her bond from $10,000 to $7,500 at the Batavia Immigration Court (over opposition from DHS).

In preparation for Ms. T’s Merits hearing, Halinka prepared a compelling asylum application supported by a very strong expert witness statement. According to her supervisor, Nicholas Philips, 2015 Justice Fellow, “Halinka did an amazing job at trial navigating some tricky legal issues with corroborating evidence.


Halinka will apply for adjustment of status for her client in a year.


Featured Fellow: Héctor Ruiz

Immigrant Justice Corps is excited to continue a monthly “featured fellow” series, highlighting the accomplishments of a different fellow each month. IJC is the country’s first fellowship program dedicated to meeting immigrants’ need for high-quality legal assistance. Since its inception in 2014, IJC has served 43,900 immigrants and their families, and has had a success rate of 93% in its cases – nearly seven times the success rate of those without lawyers or advocates.

Motivated by his experience in the borderlands near his hometown of El Paso, Texas, Héctor is committed to serving vulnerable immigrants and refugees. During law school, Héctor traveled to Guatemala with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies to research gender-based violence for asylum claims. He developed his legal and advocacy skills representing asylum-seekers at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Centro Legal de la Raza, and the Central American Resource Center, and assessing refugee claims and policies from Caribbean countries with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As an IJC Justice Fellow, Héctor represents LGBTQ and HIV+ individuals at Immigration Equality.

How did you become interested in immigration work?

I am originally from the border town of El Paso, Texas, and the immigrant experience has been a part of my upbringing and a central part of my life. My parents are immigrants, and I have a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins who are immigrants, so that was always a big interest for me. Also, just growing up on the border and encountering immigration issues regularly sparked an interest in something that I knew was special to this country — something that I think is happening at a different scale on the border than it is in the rest of the country. So, that’s how my immigration interests started.

My commitment to immigration law sort of solidified as a result of the growing unrest and instability in the northern region of Mexico that resulted in an influx of asylum seekers from that region into the United States. I think that was sort of a wake-up call for me that something really needed to be done.

Here at Immigration Equality, how do you get to address those issues that first interested you in immigration work?

Because of my background and interests, I was particularly interested in working with asylum seekers, and this organization really gave me the opportunity to do that. Other organizations do a wide-range of immigration cases, but most of my cases are asylum-related because that’s the strongest option for a lot of LGBTQ and HIV-positive folks. It has been great to focus on that area of immigration law and serve people who are fleeing similar conditions to the ones that started happening in Mexico that I became intimately familiar with and understand, almost on a first-hand basis. That, in combination with my own intersecting identities as an LGBTQ-identifying person, allows me to serve folks whose trajectories I really understand intimately.


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

The learning curve is very steep, and I’m still learning my craft every day. I had very little immigration court experience coming into this fellowship. I used to do a lot of affirmative cases before law school, and even during law school I appeared at a couple hearings, but it wasn’t really engaged. I was really thrown in the deep end here in terms of taking on complex asylum cases with a variation of criminal convictions. All of that was just something I had no exposure to. That has been the most challenging part, but it’s also been enriching because, what option do I have but to figure things out? I’ve learned a lot in the little time I’ve been here, and there’s still a lot more to learn.


What’s the most rewarding aspect of your placement?

The most rewarding aspect is just the [opportunity] to marry my own intersectional identities and help people who are in similar situations [that] I really identify with. I understand where they come from and helping [clients] see that there’s somebody who understands them and where they come from is helpful. I’ve seen the way my clients react to that in my interactions with them. I’ve seen them become gradually more and more comfortable with me as they realize that this person actually knows – maybe not to the same extent –the immigrant experience and can really help addresstheir legal needs.


Do you have a particularly memorable client interaction you’d like to share?

It’s hard to choose one, but I’ll talk about my recent detainee case. I have a client who was part of the first trans-gay migration caravan, who presented themselves at the US-Mexico border in August of last year. My client was one of the youngest members of that caravan, and he experienced horrific abuse in his home country and also traveling through Mexico to come to the United States – torture, trafficking, horrible situations. He presented himself at the border and was immediately detained. He was denied release on parole, and so he was detained for about ten months. The conditions in detention were bad for him, in combination with all of the trauma he was carrying, that he was desperate enough to ask ICE to deport him. And I mean if you really know his story, it’s heartbreaking to hear that, despite the horrific things he went through in his home country. He was so disillusioned with his case that he was ready to go back and forget about the chance of protection here.

We took on the case, and I was able to reassure him that he had a strong and sympathetic case. Just showing that commitment to him I think helped him see that someone understands where he’s coming from. I visited him in detention regularly. I don’t think he had anybody in this country really, or if he did, they were all down at the US-Mexico border. Just dedicating some time and building that relationship with him, [building] trust and showing him that I was dedicated to his case, I think made a difference. He opened up to me and trusted me, despite all of the things he went through and all of the people who did him wrong.

We were able to present a strong case, and the immigration judge granted him asylum at the end of May. The next day he was released. He is applying for his government-issued ID. I’m working on that today actually. That was nice, [because] you just never know with this government. It is making it difficult for asylum seekers to seek protection and safety. In this climate, my client’s success is one of the few good stories or good things that you hear.

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

We shouldn’t be detaining asylum seekers – at all. It’s a human right to seek asylum. I don’t believe at all in the immigration detention scheme, particularly for people who are not a danger to the community. I think that’s a big issue. Especially because asylum seekers come with so much trauma. To exacerbate their trauma with horrific confinement conditions is just horrible. I think addressing detention is something that should be prioritized.

What would you like the public to know about the kind of work that you do?

I would love for the public to know that immigration and immigrant rights are LGBTQ issues. I think that often the LGBTQ rights movement tends to marginalize other communities within it that aren’t in the mainstream. There’s this focus on civil rights, like marriage rights. Since DOMA was struck down and all these advances in LGBTQ rights were achieved in this country, the struggle for larger LGBTQ rights was forgone. We need to push at the margins, and we need to center the voices of those within the LGBTQ community who are the most marginalized – in particular, our trans immigrants, and particularly within the issue of detention. There’s just no reason for us to be detaining LGBTQ folks, especially trans folks, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

What do you envision yourself doing after the Fellowship?

I want to continue doing this work for sure. I’m dedicated to doing public service and immigrant rights work. It’s what I went to law school to do. When I saw this fellowship, it was an amazing opportunity to start doing this work from the get-go. I also see a gap in access to representation in smaller communities that aren’t so saturated with lawyers or just aren’t where people want to be. I’m from a small town at the border. There’s a lot of need down there too, just as there’s a lot of need on the other side of the river in New Jersey. I want to try to focus on bridging that gap in services to underserved communities.

Why is it important for organizations like IJC and Immigration Equality to exist?

It’s important because there are a lot of people who must face potentially dire consequences if they end up in immigration proceedings on their own. I just can’t imagine any of my clients appearing before an immigration judge to defend themselves in a complex asylum case. Even [for me], having gone through training, law school and the fellowship, it is still really challenging. I think it’s important for everyone to have representation in court, including immigrants. It’s central to guaranteeing due process, and that’s why IJC and Immigration Equality are such important organizations.

he Rule That Could Threaten Your Green Card

“The Rule that Could Threaten Your Green Card” Bloomberg Editorial: As Congress and the courts have blocked some of President Donald Trump’s most aggressive attacks on immigration, the White House has chosen to wage the war through federal regulation. A proposed rule change under review by the Office of Management and Budget would have far-reaching effects on legal immigrants already living in the U.S. and on others seeking to come.

Parents Were ‘Coerced’ To Waive Reunification Rights with Children, Complaint Says

NPR: Before the family reunification process began, government officials coerced mothers and fathers who were separated from their children into signing documents that waived their rights — threatening them, deceiving them and even denying them food and water, say immigration groups that filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday. In the 28-page complaint, the American Immigration Council and American Immigration Lawyers Association contend that immigration agents used “abusive tactics and deplorable conditions” to pressure parents to sign forms without an understanding of the repercussions.

The Trump Administration Is Seeking to Restart Thousands Of Closed Deportation Cases

BuzzFeed: So far, this fiscal year, attorneys for Immigration and Customs Enforcement have sought the reactivation of nearly 8,000 deportation cases that had been administratively closed — meaning pushed off the court’s docket. The previous fiscal year, which included nearly four months of the Obama administration, there were nearly 8,400 such requests. The pace of such requests is nearly double that of the last two years of the Obama administration, when there were 3,551 and 4,847 such requests, respectively