Immigration

Federal Judge Stays Deportation of Edisson Barros, Father of Two & Veteran New York City Cab Driver

Edisson Barros is pictured with his daughter Paola at her high school graduation.    Photo courtesy of Paola Barros/GoFundMe

Edisson Barros is pictured with his daughter Paola at her high school graduation. 

Photo courtesy of Paola Barros/GoFundMe

The Legal Aid Society announced Friday morning that Katherine Polk Failla, United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued a stay of deportation late Thursday night for Edisson Barros, a 25-year native of Queens, father of two, and veteran New York City cab driver who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last month and had been scheduled for immediate removal back to Ecuador.

Mr. Barros was issued a summons for a mere desk ticket after a dispute as he protected his beloved family dog from a reckless motorist. Following the incident, Mr. Barros dutifully appeared in court to successfully contest the charges, but was subsequently arrested by ICE when leaving court.

Mr. Barros was originally detained at Hudson County Correctional Facility but was recently transferred to an ICE facility in Louisiana, far from his family, for removal. The stay of removal is in place pending the outcome of this litigation.

Gregory Copeland, Sarah Gillman, Jennifer Williams, Allison Wilkinson, and Ramya Ravishankar with Legal Aid’s Immigration Law Unit represent Mr. Barros.

“We welcome this decision affording Mr. Barros a genuine opportunity to stay in this country while he fights his immigration case,” said Gregory Copeland, Supervising Attorney with the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “Mr. Barros’ case is yet another troubling example of this federal Administration’s cruel war to separate families, whether at the southern border or here in this sanctuary city. We look forward to ensuring that Mr. Barros remains in New York City – his home for more than 25 years - with his family and community.”

“I am greatly relieved that Mr. Barros has been granted a stay. He is a dedicated family man and by all accounts a valued member of his community. It is my hope that his family and attorneys can now see him quickly returned to New York. I will continue pressing for a favorable outcome in this case,” said Congress Member Nydia M. Velázquez.

“The ultimate goal is to reunite Edisson with his family. But first a stay of deportation was needed, and thanks to the incredible and tireless work of the Legal Aid Society, the Barros family now has a fighting chance,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the Committee on Immigration. “It’s important to remember how we got to this point, which was due to the family’s own advocacy, the elevation of their cause by activists and the press, and the help of my colleagues in government, particularly Council Member Francisco Moya and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. This victory is proof once again of an important truth: that ICE is not all powerful, that we have the tools to defend the most vulnerable among us, and that when we unite our efforts we can achieve anything on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

"This monumental victory is the culmination of dedicated grassroots organizing and people coming together for what is morally right. We will continue fighting to ensure Edisson's freedom, and for the dignity of all undocumented immigrants," said Carlos Jesus Calzadilla-Palacio, President of Young Progressives of America.

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Pizza Deliveryman Detained by ICE Is Freed by Judge

Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse | Getty Images

Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse | Getty Images

The New York Times | Pizza Delivery Man Detained by ICE Is Freed By Judge
By Liz Robbins
July 24, 2018

A federal district court judge on Tuesday ordered the immediate release of Pablo Villavicencio Calderon, an undocumented pizza delivery man, from immigration detention in New Jersey, where he had been locked up since June 1.

The order came after a morning hearing in which Judge Paul A. Crotty, an appointee of President George W. Bush and the former corporation counsel for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, pointedly questioned the government about why it had detained Mr. Villavicencio and planned to deport him. “Is there any concept of justice here?” Judge Crotty asked the government’s lawyer.

Later in the day, the judge said that Mr. Villavicencio, 35, who is married to a United States citizen and in February began a petition for a green card, should be released. The judge granted a stay of deportation while Mr. Villavicencio pursues permanent residency.

“Removal is no longer reasonably feasible,” Judge Crotty wrote in an order to be followed by a formal opinion.

“It’s absolutely sensational, he’s back with his family and the judge has allowed him to go through the process,” said Gregory Copeland, one of Mr. Villavicencio’s lawyers from the Legal Aid Society of New York.

Judge Crotty set the tone for his decision during the hearing in Manhattan when he questioned why Mr. Villavicencio had been held for 53 days by the immigration agency since his arrest while dropping off food at a Brooklyn army base. “Is he a threat to the country? A flight risk? Don’t they have to justify it?” he asked the government lawyer.

The lawyer, Joseph Cordaro, stammered, but said that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, had made the decision.

READ JUDGE CROTTY'S ORDER
READ JUDGE CROTTY'S ORDER

Mr. Villavicencio was arrested when delivering food from a Queens brick-oven pizzeria to a Fort Hamilton Army base. He presented a municipal identification card from the city, known as IDNYC, which Mr. Villavicencio has said he used previously at the base. This time it was not accepted.

A military police officer on duty said Mr. Villavicencio needed a driver’s license, which he did not have; the officer then ran a background check — which Mr. Villavicencio has said he did not consent to — which revealed an open order of deportation from 2010.

Despite the order, Mr. Villavicencio, who is originally from Ecuador, had not left the country, and in 2013, he married Sandra Chica, a naturalized citizen. Through her sponsorship, Mr. Villavicencio applied for permanent residency. But it was not until Tuesday morning that his lawyers received a date for an interview: Aug. 21.

Earlier this month, a judge had temporarily blocked Mr. Villavicencio’s deportation.

Throughout the hearing, Ms. Chica sat in the front row of the gallery while the couple’s two daughters, ages 3 and 4, played with rainbow beanie babies and princess figurines. Mr. Villavicencio was not in the Manhattan courtroom; he was detained at Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, N.J.

For that reason, the government was arguing for a change of venue, to New Jersey. Mr. Villavicencio’s lawyers, from Debevoise & Plimpton and Legal Aid, wanted to keep the case in New York, since it was originally filed in the Southern District in Manhattan and keeping it in that jurisdiction would offer the swiftest resolution.

During the hearing Judge Crotty made a point that still resonated when he made his decision six hours later. “The powerful are doing what they want,” he said, “and the poor are suffering what they must.”

Press Release: Statement on Pablo Villavicencio's Hearing

Jennifer Williams, Pablo's attorney, stands alongside Pablo's wife, Sandra Chica, as she calls for her husband's release at a press conference held before his hearing on Tuesday. 

Jennifer Williams, Pablo's attorney, stands alongside Pablo's wife, Sandra Chica, as she calls for her husband's release at a press conference held before his hearing on Tuesday. 

"Today, United States District Court Judge Crotty asked many pointed and probing questions about Pablo Villavicencio’s 53-day detention and the Administration’s highly aggressive immigration enforcement practices. It is our position that the Federal government wholly failed to address or justify their cruel treatment of Mr. Villavicencio, a person with no criminal record, a U.S. citizen wife, and two young U.S. citizen daughters. The Legal Aid Society is hopeful that the Judge will find our arguments meritorious and will release Pablo back to his family and community as soon as possible."

Press Release: We Sued The Federal Government On Behalf Of Immigrant Children

Legal Aid Brings Emergency Lawsuit Against Federal Government Over Policy That Effectively Denies Migrant Children In NYS The Ability To Apply For Asylum And Other Humanitarian Relief

PHOTO: JANNIS WERNER

PHOTO: JANNIS WERNER

LITIGATION SEEKS IMMEDIATE COURT ORDER AFFORDING EACH LEGAL AID CLIENT A 48-HOUR OPPORTUNITY TO EXPLORE POSSIBLE IMMIGRATION RELIEF WITH THEIR PARENTS AND THEIR ATTORNEY

The Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit late on July 16 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) against the Federal government on behalf of migrant children who were separated from their parents by the Trump administration and detained in New York State. The lawsuit seeks to ensure that the children are made aware of their reunification plan and are afforded an opportunity to consult with their parents and lawyers to explore asylum and other forms of relief.

On Sunday, Legal Aid attorneys learned of the Federal government’s imminent plans to transfer two young clients to Port Isabel Detention Center, a facility unlicensed to care for children in Los Fresnos, Texas, and nine other children to undisclosed locations around the country.

These transfers lack sufficient notice and erode genuine opportunities for children to assert their rights under Flores, a landmark decision from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that set national benchmarks on the treatment of minors in Federal immigration custody. The lack of notice also effectively prevents the children from remaining in the United States and avoiding trauma and persecution in their home countries.

“In reality, the Federal government plans to transfer these children to abhorrent facilities far away from legal counsel, mental health resources, and other critical services,” said Adriene Holder, Attorney-In-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Each child must be afforded the opportunity to know the government’s plans and intentions, and the opportunity to consult with their attorneys and their parents on next steps. Our clients and others have already endured significant and irreparable life-changing trauma, and they should be afforded sufficient time to assess their options under the law.”

Specifically, the litigation seeks:

  • A 48 hour notification from the Federal government to attorneys representing migrant children in New York State that details each child’s specific plan for reunification; reunification location; whether the basis for renunciation is release, detention, or deportation; as well as information on the client’s parent(s) and their available contact information.

What’s Happening With the Separated Children in New York?

Mark Abramson | The New York Times

Mark Abramson | The New York Times

The New York Times | What’s Happening With the Separated Children in New York?
By Liz Robbins
July 16, 2018

The children are on the move again. Months after hundreds of immigrant youth were separated from their parents at the southwestern border and sent to New York, some are now being sent back south to rejoin them.

But unlike the balloon-filled reunions that were taking place last week, these reunions are likely to be happening at federal detention centers. It is all part of the government’s effort to meet a court-ordered deadline of July 26 for all families to be reunited.

That is what activists and immigration lawyers wanted, but some still see red flags. “The government’s response to the court order to reunify children is to play a game of musical children,” said Eve Stotland, the legal director for The Door, a nonprofit representing a number of migrant children in New York.

Two legal developments on Monday added to the uncertainty. Dana M. Sabraw, the Federal District Court judge who set the July 26 deadline in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ordered a stay of deportations for families who had been reunited. This was to ensure that the government did not comply with the order by hastily deporting families.

In New York, Legal Aid filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court to demand the government give lawyers 48 hours notice before moving their clients, as opposed to the 12 hours mandated by Judge Sabraw.

Where will the children go?

As part of the federal plan released on Friday, the government said it would be returning 200 children a day to their parents. The parents would be moved to one of eight centers in the southwest, and the children would be moved there soon after.

Two boys from Guatemala, ages 5 and 12, were scheduled to be on their way — by airplane — to a detention center in Port Isabel, Tex., on Monday to be reunited with their mothers, according to the Legal Aid Society of New York. The lawyers received notice Monday that nine more children it represents in New York would be “discharged” within the next 48 hours, but it was unclear where they would be sent.

“It’s uncertain what these kids are being sent into,” said Beth Krause, the supervising lawyer for the Immigrant Youth Project at Legal Aid. “What the facility looks like, what services will be available, legal and social, and what rights that will stay with them and what will be stripped.”

Under what is known as the Flores agreement, children cannot be held in detention with their parents for longer than 20 days. They must be held in an accredited child care facility or be released to a sponsor. That was the government’s rationale for separating parents and children in the first place.

But parents can waive their children’s rights not to be detained beyond 20 days. This provision was one that the A.C.L.U. and government lawyers agreed upon to expedite reunions.

Denis Rivas, 25, and his son, Joshua Rivas Chirino, 4, were reunited last week and then flew to North Carolina to join family there. Marian Carrasquero | The New York Times

Denis Rivas, 25, and his son, Joshua Rivas Chirino, 4, were reunited last week and then flew to North Carolina to join family there. Marian Carrasquero | The New York Times

The children could also be released with their parents who might be required to wear ankle bracelets while their immigration cases are pending.

Aren’t the reunions a good thing?

Yes, but lawyers and activists have some reservations. The children, whom the government designated as unaccompanied minors after separating them from their parents, have been in the custody of one agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Thus, they are entitled to their own immigration hearings.

But if they are reunited with their parents and put into detention together, lawyers said, the children will be transferred to different custody — under the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — and be considered a family unit.

Lawyers for children in New York said they are deeply concerned that parents will have inadvertently signed away their children’s separate rights in the rush to be reunited. That could be important if, for example, a parent is willing to be deported back to a home country, but the child does not want to go. Ms. Krause, the lawyer for one of the Guatemalan boys flown to Texas, said her client, who is 12, wants to see his mother again, but he would not want to be deported with her because, “he is scared to go home; he has a viable asylum claim.”

It is possible that children will still be able to pursue their own claims.

According to Legal Aid’s Gregory Copeland, the A.C.L.U. lawsuit did not “adequately protect our clients,” which is why Legal Aid filed its own lawsuit in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan on Monday.

He said the Legal Aid lawsuit also formally asks the government to provide specifics on where the child would be sent and what the government intended to do with the child.

Have any reunions taken place in New York?

Yes, some. A number of children were reunited with parents arriving from other states last week, to meet a court-ordered deadline for children younger than 5. In addition, at least two other mothers rejoined their children, including Yeni González, who was reunited with her three children — ages 6, 9 and 11 — after being released from Eloy Detention Center and driven to New York by volunteers.

The federal government said last week that it had returned all “eligible” children under 5 to their parents, as Judge Sabraw had mandated. But it turned out that only 57 of 103 across the country were eligible, according to the government.

On Thursday at a City Council hearing, Mario Russell, the director of Immigration Services at Catholic Charities, said that only 12 of the 24 children under 5 years old in New York City were reunited with their parents. But officials and lawyers estimated on Monday that there had now been as many as 20 reunions with children under 5.

Bitta Mostofi, the Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs in New York, said that she was concerned about the children who remain in federal custody, and the city’s lack of information about them. She said the federal government still has not offered any details. “Their stonewalling and total lack of a reunification plan fails to help these children and our local efforts,” she said.

In recent interviews, lawyers said that at least three parents or guardians brought to the New York area to be reunified with children are still being held in an immigrant detention center outside of New York City and have not been reunified; they believe at least two have a child under 5.

WATCH: A month after ICE arrest of immigrant pizza deliveryman Pablo Villavicencio, wife pleads for his release

A month ago, Pablo Villavicencio kissed his wife and daughters goodbye as he left for work to deliver pizza, thinking he would hug and kiss them again later that night.

His life as a dedicated husband and loving father was turned upside down when he stepped onto the Army’s Fort Hamilton base in Brooklyn with a delivery. Soon he found himself confused and being cuffed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and locked up in a dingy New Jersey detention facility.

“It’s been a month of nightmares,” his wife, Sandra Chica, said from their Hempstead, L.I., home Thursday. “It’s been a month of questions and no answers.”

In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, Chica reflected on the ordeal the family of four has suffered since President Trump’s anti-immigration officials tore them apart. Chica and her girls, Luciana, 4, and Antonia, 2, are hoping a federal judge releases Villavicencio when he pleads his case July 24.

“It’s been really hard. We hope the judge lets him come home, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Chica said. “My daughters need their father.”

Pablo Villavicencio with his two daughters, Luciana, now 4, and Antonia, 2. He was detained as an illegal immigrant while delivering a pizza at the Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn Pablo Villavicencio with his two daughters, Luciana, now 4, and Antonia, 2. He was detained as an illegal immigrant while delivering a pizza at the Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn (AP)

Little Luciana hopped on the couch and clutched a photo of her dad wearing a yellow soccer shirt. Chica held back tears hearing her ask about her dad.

“I love my dad so much. I miss him,” said Luciana, running her finger on the image of her dad’s face. “I want him here in my house. My poor father is working on a place really far away. He’ll be home soon.”

“She’s too young to understand. I wish I could explain,” Chica said, drying tears.

She is happy that Pablo’s once imminent deportation was put on hold by a federal judge in early June after lawyers filed an emergency petition. But Chica laments that her Ecuadoran-born husband remains locked up in deplorable conditions. She tries to visit him every Saturday, but always leaves feeling sadder, she said.

“They cry a lot. Each time they hear the bell ring, they run over and say, Daddy’s home. It breaks my heart to see their faces,” Chica said. “Why is my dad not with me? I want Daddy here. They are really stressed.”

Sandra Chica and her daughters, Luciana and Antonia, speak to the Daily News Thursday about the imprisonment of Pablo Villaciencio. Sandra Chica and her daughters, Luciana and Antonia, speak to the Daily News Thursday about the imprisonment of Pablo Villaciencio. (Howard Simmons / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Chica, a naturalized citizen from Colombia, said she has placed photos of Villavicencio all over the house so that they remember him. There’s a family photo of posing with Santa Claus and others of a smiling family in the kitchen.

“At the end of the day we are separated. This is going to take a toll on my little girls,” she said. “This is going to take a toll on him, too. It’s been a month, but it feels like a year.”

Jennifer Williams, a Legal Aid Society immigration lawyer, said they are working hard to reunite the couple. They will argue that racial profiling was behind Villavicencio’s arrest and that he can comply with future court visits while living at home.

“It’s just very terrifying the way how this all unfolded,” Williams said. “If it can happen to a pizza guy, it can happen to anyone. I think we should be very clear that this is a full-on war on immigrants. I think that there is no other way to describe what’s happening.”

“They are humans,” she added.

Villavicencio has missed Father’s Day, Luciana’s fourth birthday and a fifth wedding anniversary since his incarceration.

The Daily News on June 17. The Daily News on June 17. (New York Daily News)

“I told Luciana it’s because he’s working,” Chica said. “I can see it is affecting them. They are not sleeping right. The other day Luciana woke up crying. She said she dreamed of her dad. He was right here with me? Where is he now, she said. She doesn’t understand why he isn’t home.”

She hopes Villavicencio returns home before Antonia turns 3 on Aug. 24. Chica, a medical assistant, said she works hard to pay the bills and keep food on the table, but there is one thing she can’t give them.

“I try to give them everything that they need, but I can’t give them Pablo,” she said. “He’s trying to stay positive. We all have that small hope that he will catch a break. If we lose hope, we lose everything.”

The pair met in 2012 through a mutual friend. Villavicencio confided that his plan was to work for a few years in the U.S. and return to Ecuador.

“We fell in love. He told me, You changed all of my plans. … I want a family with you,’ ” Chica recalled. “We just wanted a family together.”

Soon the couple found themselves saying their ‘I do’s’ in front of a civil judge in Queens.

“It was a very small wedding. He looked so handsome, so perfect. He had bought his first suit, a gray one. I still have it in the closet,” Chica said with a bittersweet smile. “He was so nervous. He was sweating a lot. He was shaking his fingers. He was really excited to have a family.”

10:04 AM - Jul 6, 2018 · Hempstead, NY5 See Edgar Sandoval's other Tweets Twitter Ads info and privacy They had two beautiful girls, and Pablo dedicated his life to working to provide for them, she recalled. He also wanted to settle his immigration status. He had applied for legal residency in February through his wife.

“He said, OK, we need to do something about this. He was trying to file the right paperwork. It takes time because it is expensive,” she said. “He was afraid of one day being detained. But we never thought it would happen this way.”

These days, Villavicencio is a shell of the man he was when they married, she said.

“To be honest, he’s scared. He looks like a different person. It is scary in there,” she said. “His eyes are different. He says, why me? There are a lot of people, why me?”

“But we have to keep fighting to bring him home,” she added. “We will be together again.”

New York Immigrants Facing Deportation Will Get Video Hearings, Lawyers Say

PHOTO: BRENDAN MCDERMID | REUTERS

PHOTO: BRENDAN MCDERMID | REUTERS

The New York Times | New York Immigrants Facing Deportation Will Get Video Hearings, Lawyers Say
By Liz Robbins
June 27, 2018

In the middle of a national immigration firestorm over the Trump administration’s policy of separating children and parents at the southern border, and with the president tweeting that detained immigrants should be denied due process in the courts, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on Tuesday made an abrupt, unprecedented decision at its Lower Manhattan court: Detained immigrants in area jails would no longer be brought to court for hearings, but would have their cases heard via a video conference.

Because many detainees meet their lawyers for the first time shortly before their hearings, immigration lawyers said the new policy would significantly affect their ability to represent their clients.

“The fact that someone is not physically in the courtroom really hinders a lot of the less tangible aspects of our successful representation,” said Sarah Deri Oshiro, the managing director of the Immigration Practice for the Bronx Defenders. “A judge is less able to assess a person’s credibility if they are not sitting in the room.”

The decision came in the wake of protests against the agency, known as ICE, orchestrated around the country last week by a group called Occupy ICE. Since Thursday, protesters have been outside the garage at 201 Varick Street in Manhattan where detainees generally enter the building. On Monday, when ICE canceled all hearings, protesters agreed to move across the street. By Wednesday morning, the group said it was ending the protests at Varick Street.

The Justice Department, which oversees the court, referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security, the agency in charge of immigration. A spokeswoman for ICE, a division of Homeland Security, did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday about the how long the video conferencing would be in place. On Monday, Rachael Yong Yow, the ICE spokeswoman, told reporters that hearings had been canceled because of safety reasons.

Lawyers working at the detained court on Varick Street said they first learned about the policy change Tuesday from court officials.

Since 2013, New York has offered public defenders to those detainees facing deportation who could not afford private lawyers, the first such program in the country, known as the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, a research and advocacy group, a November 2017 study showed that immigrants without lawyers won their cases only 4 percent of the time. But with the Family Unity Project, detained immigrants won 48 percent of their cases, giving them the right to remain in the country.

Sarah Gillman, a supervising lawyer with the Legal Aid Society said that hearings heard via video will “essentially eviscerate the entire model that’s been created,” and revert back to a system where lawyers had to locate clients detained in one of the county jails.

The in-person meeting that indigent detainees get with those project lawyers is their first contact, sometimes after weeks or months in jail. Lawyers who are part of the project — from Legal Aid, the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services — first discuss the case with a client who is brought from the jail in the morning. Hearings are in the afternoon.

With a video hearing, said Andrea Sáenz, the supervising attorney for the Immigration Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services, a lawyer cannot show evidence to a client or answer questions because conversations are not confidential.

Detainees’ relatives also rely on the hearings as a chance to see their family members. On Tuesday, the daughter of a Mexican man detained for more than a year, said she had been looking forward to seeing her father in the courtroom, but was told the hearing would be on video. Then the connection failed, causing the hearing to be rescheduled for Wednesday. “It’s worse if I’m seeing him on TV,” Jennifer, 15, who asked that her last name be withheld because of her father’s uncertain immigration status, said in a telephone interview. “I won’t be able to see his vibe. I won’t be able to make eye contact.”

Ms. Saenz said a video screen turns an often emotional hearing into a two-dimensional experience. “It’s like they are on a TV show, and it allows judges to distance themselves,” she said.

Joint Statement From NYIFUP Legal Providers On Ice’s Refusal To Bring People To Immigration Court For Hearings

NYIFUP Rally.jpg

Denying In-Person Appearances Will Impact Due Process, Access To Counsel, And Exacerbate Separation From Families And Loved Ones

Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, and The Legal Aid Society – New York City’s primary defender organizations providing pro bono legal representation on immigration matters through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) – released the following joint statement today responding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) refusal to bring people to the Varick Street Immigration Court for their hearings, and its decision to replace in-person appearances with remote video teleconferencing:

“The decision by ICE to eliminate in-person appearances in court is a direct attack on people who have been waiting for months in detention for their opportunity to meet with attorneys, assert their legal right to remain in this country, and see their loved ones,” said New York Immigrant Family Unity Project’s legal providers. “This is a byproduct of President Donald Trump’s most recent pronouncement that immigrants do not deserve the opportunity to go before an Immigration Judge and reflects Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent actions to prioritize speed and maximize deportation orders in court rather than ensure due process. As public defenders representing immigrants, we demand that ICE immediately resume bringing individuals to Varick Street to be heard and have their day in court.”

Background

Last weekend, a small group of protestors self-named “Occupy ICE NYC” blocked the garage entrance that ICE uses to bring detained immigrants into the immigration court at 201 Varick Street, New York, NY. In response, ICE cancelled all hearings scheduled on Monday, June 25, 2018. There have been numerous protests and gatherings at this courthouse in the past, none of which resulted in cancelling court appearances. Because of the cancelled hearings, dozens of people were prevented from coming to court, where they would have met with a lawyer for the first time; others missed their continued hearing at which they might have finally received a ruling on their case. Still others who would have agreed to go back to their country of origin were instead forced to remain in horrid conditions of detention. Family members who were in the courtroom to support their children, parents, husbands, and wives were sent home without the opportunity to even see their loved ones.

That night, the small group of protestors agreed to move their non-violent protest across the street, enabling access to the garage entrance. On Tuesday, even though there was no longer any blockage of the garage, ICE claimed that a so-called “security risk” forced it to suspend all in-person appearances at Varick Street for the indefinite future. ICE stated that it would force the Court to hold all hearings by video and audio teleconferencing.

On Wednesday, the Occupy ICE NYC group issued a public statement that the protests at the Varick Street Immigration Court were over. ICE has yet to commit to continuing to in-person court appearances.

The unilateral decision by ICE to deprive people of their day in court is not a reasonable response to a peaceful protest, but rather a pretext for a direct attack on the rights of individuals in this country to access the courts and have a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

Impact on Client Representation

This unilateral decision by ICE to replace in-person appearances with video and audio teleconferencing would eviscerate the ability of NYIFUP providers to ensure due process for people facing removals. Until now, this program has ensured due process by providing a free attorney to almost all unrepresented detained immigrants facing deportation at Varick Street Immigration Court at their first court appearances. Under this program, attorneys have increased immigrants’ rate of winning their cases by a factor of ten, showing that approximately one-third of people arrested and brought to court by ICE are actually entitled to remain in this country under the law. This new process will now deprive immigrants, many of whom have been waiting over three months, of their long-awaited opportunity to speak with a NYIFUP attorney at their first appearance.

Forcing people to rely on videoconferencing to fight their case would severely limit their ability to have a full and fair hearing. Under normal circumstances, clients brought to Varick Street meet with attorneys prior to and following their court appearance to assess their legal options, sign or review documents, and make decisions about how to proceed with their case. Now, clients won’t be able to do those things nor will they be able to sit with their lawyers in court or look at the evidence presented. Immigration judges will be forced to engage in the inherently difficult task of making credibility assessments involving the most sensitive and emotional of subject matter - all through a screen. In most cases, attorneys will be entirely unable to meet confidentially with their clients before appearing in court, or to do anything other than adjourn a case for another date, adding weeks to the already long detention period and adding to extreme court delays. Many people with strong cases may simply give up and sign their own deportation orders – in spite of potentially being able to remain and achieve lawful status.

Denying people the ability to connect with their family in court would exacerbate the immense pain and suffering experienced by our clients and their families. Detained people and their family members often suffer enormous pain and suffering as a result of the separation. Historically, the opportunity for family to briefly connect in court has been one of the few restorative moments in an otherwise-traumatic system.

Immigrants will be further dehumanized. Despite the best intentions of judges to be impartial, there is no doubt that having a live person in the courtroom has an impact on the decision-making in cases. Displacing people from their own court proceedings and onto an impersonal television screen denies their full humanity and makes justice even more elusive than it already is under the current administration’s mass deportation machine.

Statement On U.S. Supreme Court Upholding President Trump’s Travel Ban

Hasan Statement.png

Hasan Shafiqullah, Attorney-In-Charge of the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, issued the following statement today responding to the United States Supreme Court decision upholding President Donald Trump’s ban on nationals from five Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States:

“Common sense, decency, and the rule of law lost today with the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding President Donald Trump’s xenophobic travel ban on five Muslim-majority countries. This policy is cruel, and contrary to our nation’s values, principles, and established history as a country founded and built by immigrants.

As Justices Breyer and Sotomayor noted in their dissents, President Trump’s past hateful comments made it clear that the ban was born of unconstitutional animus against Muslims, and should have been struck down. This outrageous decision will not stop us from fighting for our marginalized and vulnerable immigrant clients.”

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NBC: Deportation of Chinese national detained at green card interview temporarily stopped

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A federal judge Wednesday temporarily stopped the deportation of a father of two from China who was taken into custody by immigration agents on the day of what was supposed to be his green card interview.

The order, signed by Judge Analisa Torres of the Southern District of New York, also called for 39-year-old Xiu Qing You to be released immediately from the Bergen County Jail, a federal detention facility in New Jersey, where he had been held since late May.

You’s attorney, Yee Ling Poon, and a spokesperson for The Legal Aid Society, which joined the case as You’s co-counsel this week, said in emails that You had left the detention facility as of late Wednesday night. He was picked up by his wife, Yu Mei Chen.

The temporary stay of removal was granted until his case is resolved.

“Today’s ruling is a sharp rebuke of ICE’s cruel and fanatical crusade to circumvent due process with the goal of tearing families apart,” said Gregory Copeland, supervising attorney in the immigration law unit at The Legal Aid Society.

U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

You’s release comes after stepped up pressure from immigrant rights groups, who rallied for You on Monday, and elected officials including Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and members of New York’s congressional delegation, who wrote to ICE’s New York field office about the case.

You was arrested by ICE agents on May 23 at what he and his wife thought was supposed to be an interview for a green card.

His arrest, ICE has said, was based on his final order of removal.

You arrived in January 2000 without a valid entry document and ICE began removal proceedings for him in March of that year, according to the agency. That December, an immigration judge ordered him to be removed from the country. His appeal to that decision was turned down that same month.

Poon said You had applied for asylum sometime after entering the U.S. You claimed that he and his girlfriend at that time had conceived a child who “was aborted by the Chinese government because of the fact that they were not married,” according to Poon, who did not represent You at that point.

His asylum claim was denied and an appeal was unsuccessful, Poon added. A removal order was issued in 2002, she said.

You put in a motion to reopen his case in May 2008, but that too was dismissed in September of that year, according to ICE.

Meanwhile, as the years ticked by, You built a life in the U.S., meeting his future wife, Chen, in 2006, according to Poon. The two had a traditional Chinese wedding banquet a year later, but didn’t officially register their marriage until around 2013, Poon said.

The couple, who live in Queens, opened a nail salon in Connecticut and had two children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, Chen said in a previous interview.

Chen became a naturalized U.S. citizen in January 2015, having earlier filed a successful asylum claim because she was forced to have an abortion while in China, according to Poon. You subsequently applied for a green card through his citizen spouse, court papers said.

But the couple never heard back, so they submitted paperwork in federal court asking the government to work on their application, according to Poon. They received a notice dated April 23 saying they’d been granted an interview a month later, court documents said.

At the interview, Chen and You were asked a lot of questions about their marriage, according to Poon, who went with them. Chen was then asked to leave the room, their attorney said.

The officer inquired with You about whether the order of removal was for him since the spelling on that document was different from the name he provided on the application, according to Poon. You affirmed it was the same.

Soon after, ICE agents arrested You, who has no criminal record, and took him to the Bergen County Jail, according to Poon.

Poon said in an interview last week that they were pursuing a number of legal avenues to keep You in the country. That includes filing a stay of removal and a motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his asylum proceedings.

Poon said the couple's church wrote a letter on behalf of You stating that he is Roman Catholic. You fears he could be religiously persecuted if deported to China, according to Poon.

Following his release Wednesday night, You and his family plan to spend some quiet time together over the next few days, Poon said, after being separated for nearly a month.