Al Otro Lado provides cross-border legal services for deportees, refugees, and separated families. They are a recipient of the 2019 ChangeLawyer grant.
Speaking of… Speaking uncomfortable truths about immigration
Jose Antonio Vargas, the founder of Define American, is the author of “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.”
Of all the questions I get asked every day, the one that crystallizes just how simplistic and uninformed the conversation about immigration is this: “Why can’t you just get legal?”
You ask what you don’t know. When it comes to immigration, most Americans I’ve met across the country—online and offline, from people calling for my deportation to people who want me to stay—don’t know a whole lot. Even journalists who cover the issue struggle to report and frame it outside a largely partisan, pro/anti-immigrant lens, too often using loaded language (“amnesty,” “anchor babies,” “chain migration”) that limits knowledge rather than expands it.
The search for genuine dialogue—the need for complexity and nuance—is manifested to great effect in We Are Witnesses: Becoming an American. With this video series, The Marshall Project has carefully curated a selection of stories that demonstrate the multiple dimensions of what we refer to singularly as “immigration.” The straight-to-camera testimonies don’t fit the typical legal vs. illegal binary that characterizes much of the discourse. The stories they tell are not laden with “talking points” that signal deference to any ideology. They tell truths that challenge and illuminate our understanding of how we got to where we are.
A 14-year-old in Honduras swam across rivers in search of a better life. He learned that when Border Patrol catches a minor, they don’t return them to where they came from—they help them look for their relatives in the United States. “So, I started looking for the Border Patrol,” Teofilo Chavez says. “I basically gave myself to them.”
Born in South Korea, Youngmin Lo arrived in the United States on a student visa. He lost his legal status when he started working to support himself. “You’re not supposed to work on a student visa. Once you lose your status, it’s done,” said Lo, who has been undocumented for 12 years. Asian immigrants—arriving at airports, not at the southern border—constitute a growing undocumented population. An estimated one out of seven Asian immigrants is here illegally.
Read the story on Marshall Project >
Watch This Becoming An American
Despite controversies over border walls, separated families and the Muslim travel ban, immigrants are still striving for American citizenship. WE ARE WITNESSES: BECOMING AN AMERICAN tells their stories and the stories of those trying to help and hinder them.
Watch on Marshall Project >
More of This Immigrants shouldn’t have to be “economically productive” to have access to equal opportunity
The following editorial was written by Jin Park, a 2018 graduate of Harvard.
In November, I became the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary to win the Rhodes scholarship. The news was bittersweet.
In 2017 the Trump administration rescinded the option for overseas travel for those with DACA status, the Dreamers who were brought to this country illegally as children. This means that when I leave the country in October to study at Oxford with my fellow Rhodes scholars, I may not be able to come back.
This is a perpetual reality of being undocumented: I never know if I have a place in America — my home — even after receiving one of the most esteemed scholarships in the world.
My family left South Korea during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. I remember being whisked away in the middle of the night when I was 7 and boarding a flight for what my parents said was “a magical place” called America. At the time, I was unaware of the economic forces that had compelled my parents to make the journey to a new country.
We settled in a Korean enclave in Flushing, Queens. The language, people, smells and flavors reminded us of home, and that helped ease our transition into our new life. My mother found work in a beauty salon, providing manicures and facials. My father was hired as a line cook in a Korean restaurant, working 12-hour shifts six days a week.
I started going to a school in a nearby Korean church. I slowly began adapting to my new life. I found comfort in learning how to speak English. Despite their demanding workload, my parents were resolute and nurturing. When my father learned that playing baseball was an American rite of passage, we’d go out to the sidewalk in front of our apartment complex to play. He didn’t know how to pitch, but he tried to teach me anyway. In 2012 I received DACA status, which allowed me to apply to Harvard. I graduated in December with a degree in biology and government.
These days the conversation around immigration is centered on conspiracy theories and racially charged statements. I’m reminded daily that I don’t belong here, and find myself having to justify why I should be allowed to remain.
I can argue that I am smart, driven and able to contribute to this country, just like my fellow undocumented immigrants. We pay taxes to help keep systems such as Medicare and Social Security solvent — systems that we may never directly benefit from.
According to a 2017 study, 91 percent of Dreamers are employed and will contribute $460.3 billion to the gross domestic product over the next decade. Over 65 percent of us are pursuing a degree in higher education.
And yet I resist citing my “intelligence” or “abilities” to defend my presence here, because a human being need not be a Rhodes scholar to be treated with basic fairness and decency. A human being shouldn’t have to be a “genius” or “economically productive” to have access to equal opportunity.
Read the story on NY Times >
Listen to This The Power of Public Defenders
On our first episode of season 2, we talk about one of the most important players in the criminal justice system, the public defender. What does it mean to be a public defender in America? Why do we have the right to counsel? And why is it important that all people have access to a zealous advocate, even those who may be guilty of serious crimes?
Listen to Justice in America Podcast >
Less of This Placing juveniles in solitary confinement makes things worse
The following editorial was written by Jessica Feierman is the senior managing director for the Juvenile Law Center and Jenny Lutz is the director of Stop Solitary for Kids Campaign at the Center for Children’s Law and Policy.
At age 15, Eddie Ellis was sent to a juvenile detention center and held in solitary confinement. According to Ellis, “The average day was a miserable day. I tried to work out. I tried to exercise. I always felt sad. I just wanted to lie down and be to myself. ... It was one of the breaking points for me as a young person.”
Two laws passed by Congress last year — the First Step Act and the reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act — will help ensure that no other young people go through the agony Ellis experienced. But the strict prohibition on solitary only applies to youth in federal custody. To fully solve the problem, states must follow suit and pass laws to end solitary confinement of youth.
Ellis, now 43, is the coordinator of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. He has spent years as a mentor and motivational speaker talking with youth and adults about how their choices affect others and how to rebuild and repair relationships.
The judge ultimately dismissed the charge of armed robbery against Ellis, but his detention had a devastating impact. When he left the juvenile facility, Ellis said, “the depression became tenfold. I really didn’t have any energy to think about doing right. I just didn’t care. … I wanted to rail against the system.”
It took a long time for Ellis to get his life back on track. He eventually returned to prison on a manslaughter charge. He experienced years of anger, depression and anxiety.
Ellis is not alone.
Research shows that solitary confinement can cause rage and frustration, leading youth who experience it to act out. And thousands of juveniles are subjected to solitary confinement every year. Almost half of all secure juvenile facilities in America use isolation to control behavior.
Read the story on USA Today
Perspective Black women punished for self defense must be freed
The following editorial was written by Mariame Kaba the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration.
On 23 June 1855, after enduring five years of sexual violence, Celia, a 19-year-old Missouri enslaved woman, killed her master, Robert Newsom. Newsom was a 60-year-old widower who had purchased Celia when she was 14. On the day of her purchase, he raped her on the way to his farm. Sexual control of enslaved women by white owners was critical to the perpetuation of slavery, and these owners relied on routine sexual abuse as much as they did other forms of brutality.
By the time she killed Newsom, Celia already had two of his children and was pregnant with a third. She had started a relationship with one of Newsom’s male slaves, George, who insisted that she end her sexual “relationship” with Newsom if they were going to continue theirs.
Celia approached Newsom’s daughters and implored them to ask their father to end the sexual assaults. But no one could protect her, so she confronted Newsom herself when he came to force yet another unwanted sexual encounter. She clubbed him to death, then burned his body in her fireplace.
Her court-appointed lawyers suggested that a Missouri law permitting a woman to use deadly force to defend herself against sexual advances be extended to enslaved as well as free women. Despite their vigorous defense, the court disagreed: it found that Celia was property, not a person. But, while Celia was not considered a person under the law and could therefore not be raped, she did have enough agency to be judged a murderess and punished for her act of resistance. She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. After an appeal of the case failed, Celia was hanged on 21 December 1855.
Black women have always been vulnerable to violence in this country and have long been judged as having “no selves to defend” – a term I devised and named an anthology on the subject after. When Ida B Wells began her anti-lynching and anti-rape campaigns a few decades after Celia was hanged, in the late 19th century, she was determined to expose the myths that black men were rapists and that black women could not be raped. Wells insisted that black women were entitled to state protection – and the recourse of self-defense – as a right of citizenship. In 2018, this right still proves elusive.
What has changed since Celia’s time?
Ask Marissa Alexander. In late January 2017, Alexander was freed from the shackles of her ankle monitor after two years of house arrest and three years of incarceration. Her freedom was secured through good lawyering and a national participatory legal defense organizing campaign.
Alexander’s tortuous journey through the criminal punishment system began in 2010, when she was confronted by her estranged husband in her home after having just given birth to her third child, a little girl, nine days earlier. Alexander used a gun that she was licensed to own and fired a single warning shot into the air to ward off her abusive husband, who admitted in a subsequent deposition to having abused every woman he had ever been partnered with (except for one).
For this, a jury found her guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following a 12-minute deliberation. It was that deadly weapon charge that prosecutors used to recommend that Marissa be sentenced under Florida’s 10-20 law to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. The judge, who had previously ruled that Marissa was ineligible to invoke the “stand your ground” defense because she didn’t appear afraid, said that his hands were tied by the law and ratified the 20-year sentence.
While self-defense laws are interpreted generously when applied to white men who feel threatened by men of color, they are applied very narrowly to women and gender non-conforming people, and particularly women and gender non-conforming people of color trying to protect themselves in domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Black women have been excluded from definitions of “respectable” and/or “proper” womanhood, sexuality and beauty, influencing how their right to bodily autonomy – and agency – is viewed.
Read the story on The Guardian >
Volunteer at the Border
A call for lawyers, law students, and other legal workers who are able to travel to Tijuana and provide support in response to the large numbers of asylum seekers in Tijuana. Al Otro Lado is asking that individuals make long term commitments of at least a week at this time. The need for legal workers in the Tijuana shelters has existed for many years but the need is now greater than ever before.
Sign up here >
Fellowship OpportunityAl Otro Lado hiring year-long fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers, we seek to hire a full-time, year-long legal Fellow to support the work of our Border Rights Project, and increase the projects capacity to represent detained asylum seekers, mentally incompetent detainees, and asylum-seeking families that have been separated by ongoing policies and tactics of family separation.
Apply here >
Fellowship Opportunity Root & Rebound hiring summer fellow
The Summer Legal Fellow will be working out of our office in downtown Fresno, which focuses on serving women of color with records and in reentry from incarceration.
The ChangeLawyers fellow will drive forward legal clinics, know-your-rights trainings, and direct services for the women of Fresno and the broader Central Valley.
Apply here >
Fellowship OpportunityCommunity Water Center hiring year-long fellow
Over a million Californians each year lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. In addition to systemic racism, one of the root causes of water inequality is under-representation and unresponsive representation at the local level.
With support from California ChangeLawyers, CWC seeks a full-time, year-long Legal Fellow to provide legal assistance to local water board members and communities without safe water.
Apply here >
Fellowship Opportunity Legal Services of Northern California hiring summer fellow
In the last four years, our 23-county northern California service area has seen at least one disastrous wildfire every fire season. With support from California ChangeLawyers, we seek to hire a full-time summer Fellow who will work on a disaster relief project, as well as conduct client intake.
Apply here >