Each year the Boston Bar Foundation grants funding to a number of legal service organizations that provide access to justice for those in our community who need it most. With the Adams Benefit fast approaching, Beyond the Billable decided to check in with one of the grantees, Community Legal Services and Counseling Center (CLSACC). It turns out that one of their attorneys has recently traveled to a detention center in New Mexico to assist with women and children’s immigration cases. We reached out to Lisa Laurel Weinberg, a Political Asylum Attorney at CLSACC, to hear more about one of her recent cases. Here’s what she had to say:
What types of cases have you been working on at the Artesia Detention Center?
The Artesia Detention Center is a family detention center. The detainees who are being held there are all mothers with their children. The women are primarily from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. All of the women I spoke to were fleeing from violence. They were primarily fleeing intimate partner violence, gang violence, and in many cases – both. I successfully represented a mother and her 17 year old and 6 month old daughters who were fleeing from severe domestic violence in their political asylum case. They had an individual merits hearing, which is their trial, before a federal immigration judge.
How did you first get involved with these types of cases?
I am a political asylum lawyer at Community Legal Services and Counseling Center (CLSACC). I am also a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA put out a call to its members to request that lawyers go to Artesia on an emergency basis to help the women and children in Artesia. AILA also offered scholarships to encourage lawyers to go. As a legal services attorney, I was awarded one of the scholarships
The Artesia family detention center is in a remote desert town in New Mexico hundreds of miles from the nearest city. Detainees are not permitted to leave, so in effect they were being prevented from obtaining legal counsel. In order for the women to obtain lawyers, lawyers have to go to them. All of the immigration proceedings are held in the detention facility remotely by video teleconferencing before judges from the Executive Office of Immigration Review in Arlington Virginia (this has since been changed to Denver). Before the lawyers started arriving, the women and children were going through immigration proceedings at the Artesia facility without the benefit of legal counsel and many were being deported. Now that they have lawyers that equation has shifted and many are being released either on bond, parole, or with legal immigration status.
Please share a story from your time at the Artesia immigration detention center.
When I arrived in Artesia on Monday September first, one of the cases that I was handed was the case of a woman and her two children who had fled severe domestic violence at the hands of her spouse whose Individual Merits Hearing in their asylum case was going to be held in one week on September 8th. This is the hearing before a federal immigration judge on the merits of her political asylum claim where it is decided whether she has a well-founded fear of persecution on a protected ground and can remain legally in the United States as a refugee. If she was not successful in her claim, she and her children would be ordered removed (deported) from the United States. It was a week away from her hearing and she did not have an attorney to represent her. I met the client (with my colleague from CLSACC paralegal/BIA Accredited representative Karen Bobadilla) the next day and we realized the case submissions had to be put together in two days in order to arrive in Arlington Virginia by the Friday deadline and the client had to be prepared to testify by the following Monday. To put it in context, outside the facility, political asylum cases before an immigration judge can take months or even years to prepare. The isolation of the facility, the forced isolation of the women and children, and the expedited process meant that I could not obtain evidence that is standard in political asylum cases such as evaluations by a doctor and a mental health professional or any affidavits from people who witnessed the abuse. After a 4 hour video hearing in the facility the case was continued because the judge wanted to hear from an expert. We came back to Boston and secured the expert on Domestic Violence in Honduras and two weeks later Ms. Bobadilla and I flew down to Arlington Virginia to finish the case. The expert testified for almost two hours and then after closing arguments the judge granted the case.