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Legal Clinic

TU Law students support immigrants seeking asylum in Texas

A team of 16 TU law and psychology students traveled to Karnes City, Texas, this summer to help provide legal support to women and children seeking asylum in the United States.

The Karnes City family detention center, which detains women and children seeking asylum in the U.S., can best be described as chaotic. A coordinated effort between GEO, the private prison company that owns the detention center, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the detention center at Karnes City is a stressful first step to seeking asylum.

The team from The University of Tulsa — clinical law Professor Mimi Marton; psychology Professor Elana Newman; psychology doctoral student Chelsea Shotwell Tabke; the legal fellow for the Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network, Robin Sherman; 16 law students; and three law students that were originally assigned as interpreters — went on the service-learning trip to provide legal assistance to the women detained there.

The Credible Fear Interview

In Karnes, the students prepared the female detainees for their Credible Fear Interview (CFI). A CFI is a first-screening to determine whether a detainee will be able to present a viable asylum case in U.S. immigration court. To pass the screening, a woman must prove that she has a credible fear of being sent back to her country. If she doesn’t pass the screening, she can have a CFI review by an immigration judge, but if she still doesn’t pass, then she is likely to be deported.

The CFI requires one to relive horrendous encounters. Clients hailed from all over the world but mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The students learned that one of the biggest factors driving these families out of their countries was incredible gang violence. “These are countries in which, as one woman from El Salvador told us, ‘The gangs control my country,’ and that is really true from the top government position down to the local police force,” said Marton. The other common problem they saw was women fleeing domestic violence, where they reported that there was no mechanism in their country through which they could seek protection from their abuser.

In addition to preparing clients for the CFI, the TU team also conducted intake interviews with women who had just arrived in Karnes, prepared advocacy briefs, searched for sponsors to whom the families could be released, and led informational sessions on the next steps after release from the detention center. By the end of their five days, they had served more than 200 detainees.

Dealing with the trauma

Interviewing traumatized clients can be hard and emotional work, which is why TU’s Psychology Department was included. Newman and Tabke were responsible for providing psychological support for both the clients and the TU team. Some of their everyday tasks included assisting the law students in conducting trauma-informed interviews, providing crisis intervention for distressed clients and helping mitigate the legal team’s vicarious traumatization. “Most lawyers are trained to work with clients who are more advantaged, and not who are in captivity,” said Newman on training the law students for the interviews.

Stephen Yoder, one of the law students who went on the trip, said the most challenging part of being in Karnes City was hearing the stories. “These women and children had faced a lot of abuse or a lot of legitimate fear in their home countries,” he said. “It really took a toll on us as a group.”

Marton points out that these experiences are necessary to teach the students the importance of pro bono legal work. “Oftentimes the idea of giving back gets lost in the busy day of a lawyer,” said Marton. “This project highlighted two issues: one, some of the massive injustices that we see in immigration law today; and two, the important role that lawyers can play in resolving those injustices.”

The importance of Karnes City experience

Trips like the one to Karnes City are invaluable to students.

“Something that I think maybe I didn’t do enough while I was in law school was actually getting real-life client interviewing experience,” Sherman said. Interviewing clients like the ones in the Karnes City family detention center gives students the perspective that these people are more than just legal cases. “If you don’t work with the non-legal issues that your client presents, you won’t be successful at the legal representation. It really is opening their eyes beyond the silo of being a lawyer and how important it is to gain other skills,” said Marton.

Law student Jose Gonzalez found something more than just legal experience. “I learned compassion and empathy. I learned that everyone is a real person and that they have real emotions, that they went through very, very hard things in their lives and they’re just trying to find some help,” he said.

TU will be returning to Karnes City Detention Center in the future under the program with RAICES. To learn more about TU Law’s Immigrant Rights Project, click here.

 

 

McCormick authors blog on homeland, immigrants and sanctuary

This post was first seen in The University of Tulsa Oklahoma Center for Humanities blog. Written by Betsy McCormick, Associate Clinical Professor and Associate Dean for Experiential Learning at the TU College of Law and OCH Fellow. In addition to teaching students in the Immigrant Rights Project Clinical Program, she also teaches Immigration Law and International Refugee and Asylum Law.

 

What do you think of when you hear the word homeland? If you are an immigrant or an immigrant advocate, you might think of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal department responsible for enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Created in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, DHS combined the work of more than twenty different federal departments and agencies into a single department “whose primary mission is to protect our homeland.”[1] Not surprisingly, post-September 11th, a critical part of the new DHS’s protective mission was the control of immigration to and non-citizens within the United States. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created three new federal immigration agencies within DHS – Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). While national security concerns have long played a role in shaping U.S. immigration law and policy, after September 11, and increasingly since then, the debate around immigration and immigrants has been framed as an issue of national or homeland security first and foremost.   Indeed, in the context of this debate, immigration is very often viewed as a threat to national security and the relationship between immigrants and the idea of homeland has become more fraught than ever.

Most dictionaries define homeland as “native land” or the country where a person is born.[2] Consequently, to the extent that homeland refers to the place from which a person originates, their native place, then immigrants will always be outsiders and can never be “at home” in their new countries. On the other hand, if homeland is instead seen as a place where one has a sense of belonging, comfort and security, then the possibility that an immigrant could make a new home exists, though is far from certain, especially in our current political climate.

Immigrants to the United States abandon their homelands for a variety of reasons, including flight from persecution and other life-threatening conditions, the pull of family ties, and aspirations for better opportunities for themselves and their families. But for many immigrants, especially those who enter or remain in the United States without legal authorization, the dream of establishing a home in the United States remains elusive. This is true because of a legal regime that creates significant, if not insurmountable, barriers to immigration. There are very limited avenues for legal migration to the United States and these are narrowed further by quotas and substantial backlogs that can delay entry to the United States by years or even decades. Those without legal immigration status live in the shadows, the antithesis of the protection and belonging represented by homeland.

In addition to an outmoded and overstressed legal regime, immigrants are often unable to feel at home in the United States because of hostility and other barriers they encounter in the communities in which they settle. Undocumented immigrants are unable to work legally so are vulnerable to exploitation. They may be afraid of interaction with law enforcement so don’t come forward when they are victims of crimes and, as a result, are frequently targeted by criminals. Language barriers leave them isolated and without access to critical information about health care or education services for their families.

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, efforts by his administration to enlist the cooperation of state and local law enforcement in immigrant policing have further undermined the sense of security and safety in immigrant communities. Many local governments and law enforcement agencies are refusing to cooperate, arguing that doing so creates mistrust in the immigrant community and has a negative impact on public safety and overall well-being.

In response to such resistance, the Trump administration has pursued an aggressive “anti-sanctuary” agenda seeking to punish state and local governments and agencies for implementing policies that are welcoming to or inclusive of immigrants, or resisting involvement in immigration enforcement. Federal courts have so far blocked the administration’s attempts to deny federal funding to so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.[3] However, during four days in late September, ICE carried out raids in ten locations around the country identified as sanctuary jurisdictions, including Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Denver and Portland, Oregon. [4] Operation Safe City led to a total of 498 arrests and was designed to send a clear message to these jurisdictions that their refusal to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts will have consequences.

The battle between the Trump administration and the sanctuary cities and states offering protection and welcome to their undocumented immigrant residents is a struggle over who gets to make a home in our communities and, ultimately, who gets to be a part of the American homeland. It is a struggle that will not be resolved without thoughtful, meaningful reforms that focus limited enforcement resources on serious threats to public safety and national security, while providing some solution for those millions of unauthorized immigrants living in and contributing to our communities who pose no threat.

[1] PROPOSAL TO CREATE THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, JUNE 2002, HTTPS://WWW.DHS.GOV/PUBLICATION/PROPOSAL-CREATE-DEPARTMENT-HOMELAND-SECURITY.
[2] SEE MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM; DICTIONARY.COM; AND EN.OXFORDDICTIONARIES.COM.
[3] JASON MEISNER AND JOHN BYRNE, JUDGE RULES IN CITY’S FAVOR ON SANCTUARY CITIES, GRANTS NATIONWIDE INJUNCTION, CHICAGO TRIBUNE (SEPT. 15, 2017), HTTP://WWW.CHICAGOTRIBUNE.COM/NEWS/LOCAL/BREAKING/CT-CHICAGO-SANCTUARY-CITIES-LAWSUIT-MET-20170915-STORY.HTML; ALAN NEUHAUSER, FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS TRUMP EXECUTIVE ORDER ON SANCTUARY CITIES, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT (APRIL 25, 2017), HTTPS://WWW.USNEWS.COM/NEWS/NATIONAL-NEWS/ARTICLES/2017-04-25/FEDERAL-JUDGE-BLOCKS-TRUMP-ORDER-CUTTING-FUNDING-TO-SANCTUARY-CITIES
[4] MIRIAM JORDAN, IMMIGRATION AGENTS ARREST HUNDREDS IN SWEEP OF SANCTUARY CITIES, NEW YORK TIMES (SEPT. 28, 2017), HTTPS://WWW.NYTIMES.COM/2017/09/28/US/ICE-ARRESTS-SANCTUARY-CITIES.HTML?_R=0.