Students Help Create Resource for Asylum Seekers

The Sheller Center collaborated with the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA) to release The Annotated Table of Contents Project this month.  The project aims to assist immigration lawyers and applicants in preparing asylum cases by providing detailed and compelling information on country conditions in the Northern Triangle, tailored to specific elements of an asylum claim.  Under the guidance of Dean Ramji-Nogales, Emily Alvarez (’21), Jeff Basch (’19), Ken Bergman (’19), Carla Cortavarria (’19), Layal Issa (’20), Pretty Martinez (’20), Peter Mazur (‘18), Linh Nguyen (’19), Ashley Rotchford (’18), Sofia Sanchez Ordonez (’20), and Emily Welch (’19) collected and organized research in both English and Spanish that demonstrates government actors are unwilling and unable to protect individuals fearing persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  Their research is broken into several modules that focus on information helpful to cases in which individuals fear persecution by private actors, in response to recent restrictions on those who qualify for asylum.  The law students collaborated with Temple’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese to obtain certified translations for Spanish language documents, and worked with numerous individuals and organizations for whose guidance and assistance we are deeply grateful.

Pa. Supreme Court should address ICE arrests at the courthouse

On January 30, 2019, the Sheller Center released Obstructing Justice: The Chilling Effect of ICE’s Arrests at Pennsylvania’s Courthouses. The report is authored by Patrick Gordon (’19), Kelley Grady (’19), and Shaqueil Stephenson (’19). The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, and Slate cover the report, which explains how ICE arrests and court personnel collaboration with ICE has obstructed justice by instilling fears in immigrant communities about going to court. Over the course of the semester, the authors collected information from lawyers, legal services organizations, victim service advocates, and community based organizations across the state about this issue. The report not only finds incidents in 13 different counties across Pennsylvania but also details the ways in which court personnel could be involved in apprehending and arresting immigrants. In Philadelphia, Community Legal Services (CLS) has been leading the advocacy campaign with the First Judicial District.

Barriers persist for non-English speakers in Pennsylvania courts

Unfinished Business, a new report from the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple Law School and Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law reveals that in some Pennsylvania courts, non-English speakers may not receive interpretation assistance during their hearings. This report is a follow-up study to the Sheller Center’s 2014 survey of Pennsylvania’s magisterial district judge (MDJ) courts.

The study performed court observation in 19 MDJ courts in Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties. It found that the majority of courts observed failed to provide certified interpreters for civil hearings. Court staff also did not consistently provide interpreters when speaking with limited English proficient individuals at the front desk nor did they uniformly provide notice of the right to language services. A minority of courts, however, were observed to provide exemplary language services.

“What is most concerning about our results is the inconsistency between courts. This means that individuals with limited English proficiency have unequal opportunities to access and participate in court matters depending on their location,” commented Anne Bonfiglio, a 3L law student and co-author of the report.

Magisterial district judge courts are Pennsylvania’s “small claims” courts. Litigants in these courts frequently do not have attorneys. Without access to adequate interpretation, non-English speaking litigants cannot understand what is happening in their court case.

The study concludes that these variations among courts came from the lack of consistent procedures and the limited accountability for courts that fail to comply with state and federal law. Further, a judge’s personal commitment to and understanding of language services directly contributed to the quality of language services provided in the courthouse.

The study comes on the heels of a comprehensive statewide Language Access Plan issued by the Supreme Court in March 2017. In order for this statewide plan to be truly effective, this report calls for statewide training of court staff and judges as well as forceful monitoring and enforcement.


Students create Welcoming Schools Toolkit for students, parents, and educators

The Youth Organizing Project at the Pennsylvania Citizenship and Immigration Coalition (PICC) came to the Sheller Center asking for help in creating a toolkit that would help immigrant communities advocate for the policies and practices needed to create safe and welcoming schools. After the fall election, PICC was flooded with questions from parents and teachers across PA, asking whether it was safe to send their children to school and what schools could do to protect students.

Social Justice Lawyering Clinic Students Tessa Carson (’17), Emily Diaz (’18), and Ashley Rotchford (’18) created the Welcoming Schools Toolkit. Emily Diaz states, “its purpose is to provide students, parents, and educators with the tools to advocate for schools that are committed to ensuring that all students—regardless of their immigration status—are welcome, safe, and protected in the school environment.” The toolkit offers sample resolutions and policies that represent proactive steps that schools can take to keep children safe from immigration enforcement raids, protect students’ privacy, and affirm a commitment to inclusiveness. Diaz, along with her partners, debuted the toolkit at PICC’s statewide convening in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in May 2017.


Sheller Center students help craft City resolution recognizing undocumented workers

Last week, Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution that recognizes all workers, regardless of immigration status. Sponsored by Councilwoman Helen Gym, the resolution continues the City’s tradition of welcoming immigrants, acknowledging the contributions of undocumented workers to Philadelphia’s local economy despite their exclusion from the lawful workforce under federal immigration laws. It also notes the increased risk of abuse and discrimination against undocumented workers. The resolution cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the fundamental human right to earn a living without unjust exclusion and fair and safe workplace conditions.

The resolution is a major victory for the local organizing efforts of Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights (PAUWR). Just a couple of years ago, PAUWR was hatched as an idea from the kitchen of Ben Miller and Cristina Martinez, to fight for the rights of undocumented workers. PAUWR grew in strength and numbers by hosting a number of sold-out community dinners throughout Philadelphia. It will continue to do so by partnering with immigrant chefs and taking its local dinner series nationwide.

The resolution was drafted with help from Rebecca Daily (2L) and Ashley Rotchford (2L), law students at the Sheller Center for Social Justice, who worked with PAUWR as members of Temple Law School’s National Lawyers Guild (NLG). “This resolution is yet another example of how local jurisdictions can be inclusive of immigrants, despite the current federal climate that is hostile to both immigrants’ and workers’ rights,” says Rotchford.

For a news article on the resolution, click here.

Guest post: refugee and travel bans

Temple Law students Lilah Thompson and Kimya Forouzan share their reflections on the third event in the Sheller Center’s “Making Sense of the Legal Headlines” series.

Last week, Professors Jaya Ramji-Nogales and Peter Spiro, and Jonathan Grode, Esq. spoke about the Refugee and Travel Bans imposed by Executive Order on January 27, 2017 and March 6, 2017.

For attorney and Temple Law alum Jonathan Grode, the effects were felt personally by his clients, the Assali family, who were coming to the United States through a family-based category. Although their process began in 2003, they were unable to travel to the United States until January of this year. Subsequently, they got caught up in the travel ban, and Mr. Grode was called to help.

President Trump has stated on numerous instances that his goal is a “Muslim ban.” However, the Assalis, a Christian family, were still excluded from entering the United States because they came from one of the countries on the travel ban list. Mr. Grode was eventually able to get the Assalis back into the United States after much legal and political footwork, as well as appeals to the media. However, the process was difficult and uncertain. Mr. Grode, who witnessed the ultimate family reunification at JFK Airport, stated that the moment was “like watching your child be born.”

In an effort to justify his refugee and travel bans, President Trump has persistently mischaracterized refugees. He has called refugees “illegal immigrants,” and has stated that until the government can institute an “extreme vetting” process, no refugees should be allowed into the U.S. This begs many questions: Who are refugees? Where do they come from? Why do they flee? How are they screened and vetted?

Who qualifies as a refugee?

In order to be deemed a refugee, an individual must prove that they have have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Over 21 million people are refugees, 51% of whom are children. The number of refugees in the world is currently at the highest level ever recorded in human history.

Why do refugees flee?

Currently, 53% of refugees worldwide come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the violent civil war in 2011. While situations in countries facing mass displacement and flight are different, they share important commonalities, including violence, instability, and persecution. Although President Trump has lumped refugees in with “radical Islamic terrorists,” refugees are in fact often fleeing the same terror that the U.S. is claiming to be fighting. Refugees are not simply crossing borders looking for a new life; they are forced out of their homes because it is too dangerous to survive there.

How are refugees screened, vetted, and processed to come to the United States?

As Prof. Ramji-Nogales stated, “we are already conducting extreme vetting.” In fact, Prof. Ramji-Nogales pointed out, refugees receive “the most extensive set of checks of anyone entering the United States.” Under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), an interagency process that includes three primary U.S. Government agencies—Department of State, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—refugees are vetted based on specific requirements. This includes an in-person interview with DHS, security checks, and a medical exam. Due to these strict requirements, the screening process alone takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months. In other words, refugees are lawfully entering the United States. Once they are approved and processed to come to the U.S., refugees start on a path to citizenship.

How much does the United States do to help refugees?

Prof. Ramji-Nogales described the number of refugees the U.S. takes as a “drop in the bucket.” The ceiling for refugee admission in the U.S. is set each year; in 2015, it was 70,000. In 2017, President Trump halted even this small contribution to resettling the world’s most vulnerable people.

How does the Muslim Ban fit into the larger global issue of refugee resettlement?

Professor Spiro detailed the timeline of the recent Muslim Ban and its effects on the global issue of refugee resettlement. He detailed the specifics of the first ban, implemented on January 27, 2017, which suspended U.S. entry for those from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Sudan. The order went into effect immediately, and created chaos in airports throughout the United States. Additionally, the ban affected not just refugees, but also visa and green card holders, many of whom had been residing in the United States for extended periods of time but had simply traveled outside of the country when the bans went into effect. On February 3rd, a nationwide temporary restraining order was issued, and Customs & Border Protection resumed “standard policy.”

On March 6th, a second ban was ordered. The new order affected individuals from the same countries as before, although Iraq was excluded and it no longer included existing visa holders. District courts in Hawaii and Maryland shortly thereafter issued nationwide preliminary injunctions blocking the second ban.

Why is this all important?

There is a misperception that refugees are somehow dangerous terrorists. The idea that the U.S. can skirt its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to take in refugees because we equate refugees with terrorists is illogical, immoral, and illegal.

When we turn our back on refugees, we tell the world that the U.S. cannot tell the difference between a refugee, who is fleeing terror, from a terrorist, who is the oppressor. Our action says that, even with all of the facts about what refugees face, and the fact that they are screened and vetted more than any other individual who sets foot on U.S. soil, we do not care to help. It says that U.S. citizens deserve peace of mind over a refugee child’s safety from violence or death.

However, this can change. We can take in more refugees. We can fulfill our obligations under international law. We can support non-profit organizations resettling refugees, like HIAS Pennsylvania and Nationalities Service Center here in Philadelphia.

If we can contribute anything to this situation, it is information and understanding. In the face of fear politics, we must come together as a community to better understand the refugee process so we can better act towards changing the narrative.

For more information about immigration and refugee law, please check out this Resource Guide, created by Carla Wale from the Law Library.


Guest post: border security and interior enforcement

Guest blogger Anne Bonfiglio, a second-year student at Temple Law, shares her reflections on last week’s Sheller-Center-sponsored panel (the first in our “Making Sense of the Legal Headlines” series).

Midway through the Q&A of last week’s panel on Border Security and Interior Enforcement, a student prefaced a question with the comment, “this is really depressing.”  Exiting the event, a professor confessed that only seconds before that remark a colleague had whispered the same to her.  For those who care about the rights of immigrants, January’s executive orders certainly are disheartening.  For those in the country without status, they are terrifying.  But I left with a more hopeful takeaway: these orders are vulnerable in the face of resistance.

The lecture, given by Professors Ramji-Nogales and Spiro, focused on the two Executive Orders signed January 25, 2017.  The first, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” orders the construction of the infamous border wall.  The second, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” attacks “sanctuary jurisdictions” by removing their eligibility for Federal grants.  Additionally, these orders authorize an expansion of detention facilities, expedited removal, and immigration officer hiring, expand the definition of a criminal alien, and require the publication of data supporting the President’s anti-immigrant position.

On their face, these provisions are alarming.  Unfortunately, some, such as the expansion of expedited removal, are well within the President’s statutory authority (though they may present constitutional questions).  But others are less secure.  Some provisions, including increased hiring, detention, and the wall, are subject to Congressional budgetary approval.  Others, like the various reporting obligations, have inadequate infrastructure.  And the crackdown on sanctuary jurisdictions has at least three possible legal arguments against it: precedents prohibiting the commandeering of local law enforcement, constraining the use of funding to force compliance, and basic Fourth Amendment Protections.

While these orders have yet to be challenged in court, they can be resisted, whether through lawsuits or local community support of undocumented residents.  As an immigrants’ rights advocate, I find inspiration in these possibilities.  Yes, recent policy is depressing and the toll on families is staggering.  But it is important that one doesn’t become overwhelmed by these costs. Immigrant advocates are mobilizing; as social justice lawyers and students, it is our job to promote an understanding of the legal arguments available in this fight.

Anne has put together two sets of links for further reading — one comprising legal sources, news and commentary, the other a collection of “know your rights” and other materials for community education and organizing

New “language access” plan for Pennsylvania courts

A 2015 report by the Sheller Center was part of the advocacy that led to this week’s announcement, by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, of a statewide “language access” plan for Pennsylvania courts.

The Center’s 2015 report, which focused on the state’s Magisterial District Justice courts, found that people with limited English proficiency (LEP) were sometimes expected to proceed without interpretation services, or with “help” from friends or family. The Center initiated its study after the ACLU filed two complaints with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, highlighting the lack of access to interpreters by two litigants in the Pennsylvania courts. In response to the efforts of a coalition of advocates for LEP individuals, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts finally developed a plan that represents a big step forward for Pennsylvania.

The biggest challenge ahead will be implementation and monitoring of the plan in the state’s 60 judicial districts.  Sheller Center students are embarking on a follow-up project to the 2015 study to assess whether the language access needs of LEP individuals are, in fact, being met. “Our observations have shown the progress that courts have made towards providing language access services, but we have also identified many areas for growth,” said Lisa Burns, a 2L working on the project as part of the Center’s Social Justice Lawyering Clinic.

Click here for a WHYY report summarizing the Supreme Court announcement.