Boston immigration lawyers face increased cases and increased frustrations

The phones won’t stop ringing at Cameron Law Offices, Attorneys at Law in East Boston, but that may not be the best thing.

“People are just calling and calling and walking in, even people who have no problems and are never going to have any problems,” said Matt Cameron. “Caseloads have certainly increased and the number of detentions has increased. It’s just a lot to process for us.”

Cameron, whose law practice resides in a majority Hispanic neighborhood, said his office has been overwhelmed with clients.

Cameron said his firm is looking into recruiting more help to be able to stay on top things. This decision can’t be an easy for him to make. While there has been an increase in cases, Cameron said the firm is struggling financially. This added stress coupled with the hostile environment towards his clients has taken a personal toll and led him to looking into counseling services.

“Part of the thing that I’ve had to have counseling for,” said Cameron, “is that I can’t bring myself to charge these people. I barely make any money and it’s become a real struggle.”

When President Donald Trump first issued a ban on refugees and travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, immigration attorneys flooded airports across the country looking to volunteer their services to help immigrants mitigate the chaos and confusion that came as a result of the executive order.

Now several months and two struck-down travel bans since the inauguration later, the state of chaos has not dissipated for immigration attorneys. Immigrants, of varying legal statuses, are still facing uncertainty in the wake of a new priorities memo from the Department of Homeland Security, which makes any undocumented immigrant a priority for deportation, as opposed to Obama’s prioritization of immigrants who had committed serious crimes.

Jeannie Kain, of Ramirez & Kain, LLP based in Boston, discussed how the new priorities memo has completely changed the advice she offers to her clients.

Kain spoke of client of hers who has had previous deportation proceedings but is now married to a U.S. citizen. Typically, this would be a clear-cut case for an application for legal status, but now Kain is unsure of whether to submit this application because it is possible that her client be arrested at his immigration interview.

“Now it’s like all bets are off,” said Kain. “It’s been pretty grim after the inauguration unfortunately.”

Now as the first “DREAMer” has been deported, despite Trump’s promises that immigrant children would not be targeted, the situation has become more dire.

Cameron said he finds himself worrying about his clients late into the nights. He refers to some of his clients as “part of the family.”

“I haven’t been able to get that distance that you need, that other attorneys at this point in their careers have managed to achieve, of being able to step back a little and not be so personally invested,” said Cameron.

Cameron is not alone in this. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has a New England chapter headquartered in Boston with a tight knit community of attorneys all experiencing similar issues.

“Whether I feel burnt out, it depends on the hour of the day and what’s just happened,” said Amy Wax, who is also an AILA member. “It’s a shift in morale, both among clients but also among immigration lawyers.”

Wax, of the Law Office of Amy M. Wax, P.C., spoke about some of the added stresses of being a lawyer or a client in Boston.

With 16,000 pending cases in the immigration courts, Boston has the ninth-highest backlog of cases in the country. According to WBUR, the average wait time to have your case heard is almost two years. Massachusetts has an immigration rate that is twice the national average.

Wax said oftentimes when you do get a hearing scheduled the judge has been either double or triple booked for the same timeslot which can lead to clients and lawyers coming prepared to court, witnesses and all, only to be told that your case won’t actually be heard.

“If the case isn’t super strong then sometimes the client is happy that it’s taking a little bit longer,” said Wax. “But I think it increases the anxiety.”

Kain added that this long wait time could be particularly detrimental to asylum cases.

“Asylum is a status that’s based on current events,” said Kain. “If you file an asylum case today, if you don’t get heard for three years its possible that the situation has completely changed.”

She also added that this also leaves people who had strong asylum cases vulnerable because their application leaves them at the attention of immigration enforcement. This is a reoccurring worry that each of the attorneys echoed. Applying for legal status in a time of uncertainty can be important, but it can also draw unwanted attention to immigrants with weaker cases.

Kain said the only other time in her career that she has seen this level of panic amongst immigrants was directly after the September 11 attacks.

“I just hope that something changes. It’s been really horrible honestly. It’s hard to believe that things could change as quickly as they did, and of course that’s what he said was going to happen,” said Kain. “We were all sort of terrified that that’s what was going to happen and now we’re in it but whatever we’ll work through it.”

That same message of good intentions met with frustrations was with echoed Cameron who said he isn’t sure how much longer he can keep doing full time deportation defense, especially not without mental health support.

“I knew that I wanted to go to law school to do something that would individually help people, to work one on one to make people’s lives better,” said Cameron. “Money didn’t have anything to do with it and it still doesn’t.”

 

For 28 years, Boston’s Irish International Immigrant Center provides support to new Bostonians

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#11For11Million

mitú, a Latino-oriented digital media company, recently launched a new campaign called #11For11Million. This is a campaign to spread awareness about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and also providing legal services.

A “town hall” on Facebook Live, hosted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, kicked off the campaign.

mitú is also seeking donations of $11 to go towards providing free legal aid to immigrants facing deportation. All of the money raised will go to the National Immigration Law Center.

“As the voice of Latino and multicultural youth in America, it’s our responsibility to leverage mitú’s influence to support issues affecting our community. Empowering and inspiring through authentic storytelling is what mitú does best,” mitú President/co-founder Beatriz Acevedo told the Beverly Hills Courier.

I think this shows a trend in immigration activism. In a time where immigrants need to think defensively and feel like their lives are at risk of being uprooted, many will be seeking legal services. For those that can’t afford it, organizations like this providing it free can make a huge difference. Until other states step up like New York, many immigrants will be depending on the

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New York takes a stand

President Trump’s home state has made it crystal clear they will not be supporting his immigration agenda. But now, the state has taken it a step further by putting up $10 million to establish a legal fund for immigrants facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer.

This program will be called the Liberty Defense Project. Unlike U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants to do not have access to free legal counsel. The project states that it is the “first-in-the-nation, state-led public-private project to assist immigrants, regardless of status, in obtaining access to legal services and process.” To qualify, an immigrants income needs to be below 200% of the federal poverty line.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit social justice policy group, will be receiving $4 million of that budget. The remainder will be given to the New York Immigration Coalition, the Empire Justice Center, the Northern Manhattan Immigration Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Hispanic Federation and the Catholic Charities Community Services.

According to TRAC Immigration, in 2015 98.5% of cases of immigrants with a legal defense ended in a actual deportation. With representation that number drops to 73.7%.

This is something I had never given much thought to before but I think it’s a really great thing that the state committed to. Many undocumented immigrants pay into the tax system and don’t get anything out of it. Hopefully other states follow.

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Everything is bigger in Texas

Last Sunday afternoon, over 3,000 people took to the streets in Dallas for a “mega march.

This was a protest calling for a complete overhaul of the immigration system. From the travel ban to the increase in discrimination, protesters had a lot of qualms with how the current administration is handling things.

(Smiley N. Pool/Dallas News Staff Photographer)

Attorney Domingo Garcia, one of the event’s organizers, told the Dallas News that there were a lot of American flags present at the march “because this is really about America’s values.”

This was the second immigration mega march. The first was in 2006. In these past 11 years things have changed quite a bit. Garcia told CBS that things are getting worse for immigrants.

“People that came with us last time are afraid… they are really afraid of showing up this time they are afraid of authority,” said Eduardo Murillo, to CBS.

While there were some opposing voices present on Sunday, the mega march was overall a peaceful one. No arrests were made.

I think its really interesting and positive that people are actively protesting these immigration issues. Obviously, when the travel ban first came out people took the streets in anger but I think its important to stay organized and not let these issues be forgotten.

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A community rallies and the country notices

Brockton a city south of Boston made national news this week after word spread about an impending ICE raid.

First the news spread by word of mouth both online and in the community. Then, Michelle DuBois, a state representative, confirmed the dates of the raid on her Facebook page to warn community, of which a quarter are foreign born. People began spreading information and letting people know they don’t have to open their doors unless there is a search warrant. Some championed the community sticking together, but others, including Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, not so much.

However, Attorney General Maura Healey disagrees with the the sheriff’s statement and said that DuBois was within her rights to warn the community.

On Monday, the community took to the steps of city hall to show support for immigrants and for DuBois’ warning post.

“Folks who do not vote have as many needs and concerns as anyone else,” said DuBois, at the rally. “Children do not vote, and they are our most precious resource. … Non-citizens do not vote, but they make up a large part of the city of Brockton. Brockton has always been an immigrant city, and all people who live here deserve representation and a voice.”

This is something that directly relates to the idea of sanctuary cities. I think everything is pretty unclear legally as to what degree cities and government employees have to comply with ICE. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the upcoming months, but it is nice to see politicians standing up for immigrants in their communities.

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What do Jeff Sessions’ threats mean for Boston?

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated Trump’s threat against sanctuary cities that refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement readily. Sessions said this is a violation of federal law and the cities that do so will be punished by losing federal funding, according to The Washington Post.

“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies. Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars,” said Sessions.

Boston, and four other cities in Massachusetts, have stated that they do not plan on complying with ICE deportations.

After Sessions’ speech yesterday,Nicole Caravella, a spokeswoman for Mayor Marty Walsh, told Boston.com that they will be sticking to this plan. She said the city’s Trust Act prohibits Boston police from holding undocumented immigrants for federal deportation and they are not breaking any federal laws in doing so.

Walsh also denounced Sessions’ statement.

“The threat of cutting federal funding from cities across the country that aim to foster trusting relationships between their law enforcement and the immigrant community is irresponsible and destructive,” said Walsh.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent abutter to President Trump, also criticized the threat. She stated it was both unconstitutional and bad for the state.

For now, it seems the cities are not taking these threats to heart. I will be anxiously awaiting to see if this administration follows through.

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Immigrants and the census

There’s an unexpected victim in President Trump’s anti-immigration stances: The 2020 Census.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin told The Boston Globe he’s concerned about the effect that anti-immigrant rhetoric will have on participation in the 2020 Census.

“I am extremely alarmed that the rhetoric and the action of the Trump administration are going to make it very difficult to get cooperation from non-native-born residents of Massachusetts who should be counted.”

Accurate census counts are important as the census results affect how federal funding is allotted and the number of congressional seats. Massachusetts lost a seat in the house in 2010 and Galvin hopes to get it back. As it ranks eighth in percentage of foreign born residents, immigrants not participating in the census could be costly for the state.

The Washington Post also reported that there is a draft of an executive order titled “Executive Order on Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs.” This order would require that the census include more questions about immigration status. Currently, the census simply asks if you are a citizen or not.

This is definitely something that isn’t talked about widely, but I found it really interesting because it can have long-lasting effects on states with large immigrant populations.

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