A quick thank you to all you readers who stuck with me through last week’s long blog entry. There was just so much to say! I promise this entry won’t be nearly as long, even though this week felt just as busy.

Monday was the Wal-Mart 12th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day sponsored by U.N.I.T.Y., the Corporate African American Resource Group of Wal-Mart. I was happy to be invited, so I spent most of my day in Bentonville helping Wal-Mart Store, Inc. celebrate and recognize the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Many law Walmart Logoschool alumni were prominently featured throughout the day. Tené Green served as the day’s emcee, Mike McGhee played Dr. King at a young age during a presentation of his memoirs, Latriece Watkins delivered the celebration’s closing remarks, Kendra Buford was featured in a video and Kendall Pringle sang a gospel song towards the end. I’m very proud of each and every one of them! Our alumni are very active at Wal-Mart, and we’re very proud of their accomplishments and how well they represent both Wal-Mart and the University of Arkansas. It was great to see them contributing in such big ways.

Wal-Mart MLK Celebration, Alums and Nance

Lee Scott, who introduced the keynote address, spoke about the importance of diversity to Wal-Mart’s coRev. Sharptonrporate culture and recognized the contributions of a number of their diverse associate groups. The keynote speaker for the event was Rev. Al Sharpton Jr., and earlier in the day I was invited to a private discussion with him and African American corporate associates of Wal-Mart. It was an honor to sit with Rev. Sharpton, and our discussion was quite interesting. He is now seeking to build a national multicultural, multiracial movement that addresses a number of issues while continuing to fight racial injustice. All in all it was a wonderful event and I was really pleased that I was able to attend.

Tuesday the 15th I was invited to speak with the Senior Democrats of Northwest Arkansas. My topic was on “Challenges and Access to Justice,” and I spoke about two challenges: the first is the lack of diversity of those admitted to the law school and the bar, and the second is the poor legal representation of citizens with moderate to low incomes. There is a need to increase the diversity of law school student populations, which will in time increase the diversity of the bar. Equally important is the need for poorer members of our community to have their rights represented during legal proceedings. All in all, it was a fun meeting, especially since my mom, Fern Nance, and Lynn Martin and Cleo Matter from my church were there.

BefAlpha Kappa Alpha Sororityore I forget, Happy Birthday to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority! We’re very excited about the 100th anniversary of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I was very pleased to be able to attend a celebration of our 100th anniversary Tuesday afternoon in the Union with a number of members from both our alumni and undergraduate chapter. It was fantastic to share in that sisterhood and to recognize the wonderful tradition of our sorority.

Those of you who have followed to blog for a while may remember that I am a member of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Board of Directors. The Board meets at least three times a year. One meeting, usually the JanuaryLirs logo mefl prj logoeting, has an educational component. This year we traveled to Phoenix to learn about the work of the Florence Project and to visit the Florence Detention Center in Florence, Ariz., about 60 miles from Phoenix. There we observed a Florence Project attorney giving the “Know your Rights” presentation that is given to the detainees before they attended immigration court. The Florence Project created the “Know Your Rights” presentation which is now part of the detention standards in many places across the country. During the presentation the attorney asks the detainees if they feel that have legitimate reasons they should not be deported. If so, those detainees will be given up to two weeks to confer with a lawyer to determine the legitimacy of their claims.

The presentations, given in both Spanish and English take place at about 7:30 in the morning. The court’s docket begins at department of justice8:30 a.m. The judges in immigration court are not Article III judges, but work for the department of justice. In the court proceedings we observed there were 34 male and two female detainees. Detainees from three facilities were bussed to the Florence Center for deportation hearings. The facility houses about 1100 detainees. It also serves as a staging ground for those who have already been processed and will be deported.

During the hearings we observed, none of the detainees were represented. The typical flow of the hearing for each was as follows:

The judge (through a translator) began by announcing that this was a group deportation hearing pertaining to the following individuals and each detainees name was stated for the record. “You have been placed in deportationdepartment of hs proceedings because the Department of Homeland Security says you are not a citizen and are here in violation of immigration laws. The purpose of this hearing is to see if these allegations are true. You have the right to be represented by an attorney at no cost to the U.S. government. You should have received a list of attorneys. Did you receive it? Some of them may represent you at little or no cost. Do you understand your right to an attorney? Does anyone want more time? I will reset those who desire more time . . .”

Those detainees requesting more time were removed from the group hearing. The Judge told the deportees that the government filed a document with the court, a “Notice to Appear” with the reasons they are to be deported and that each of them seemingly had signed that document. He then asked if they had received copies. All responded that they had. He told them that they would be asked individually to admit or deny the charges and that if they admitted them, the removal order would be sustained. Then each was asked a series of questions:

  • Are you (name)?
  • Do you understand your rights?
  • Do you want more time to speak with a lawyer?
  • Are you a citizen?
  • Are your parents citizens?
  • The governments says you entered this country illegally and should be deported. Did you enter the country illegally?
  • Did you enter without being inspected by an immigration officer?LIRS Law Books
  • Through the desert or the hills?
  • Are you a citizen of (country)?
  • If you should be deported, where would you like to be deported?
  • Are you afraid to go to (country)?
  • Do you have any money?
  • I find by your admission, the order of deportation is sustained.
  • I order you removed to (country).
  • Do you want to appeal?

Most of the hearings proceeded in this manner, except for the instances when the detainee had come to the facility after serving time in jail. In those cases, the judge asked them about the charges as well. The judges have discretion in voluntary removal cases. They can look at factors like good moral character and the existed of a criminal history, family ties such as hardship to children, medical health of a family member and criminal history. The judge would not grant voluntary departure to anyone who had been arrested or served time in jail. The impact of this is that if a detainee is deported voluntarily and wants to apply to enter the country in the future, he or she does not have to apply for a waiver to get around that fact of a previous order of deportation.

After observing the expedited removal hearings, our group toured the detention facility and visited with Judge Taylor who answered our questions about the process. We learned from David Koss, the Officer in Charge that 90 percent of the detainees in the facility are removed within 7-10 days of arrival. Approximately 28,000 detainees cycled through the center in one year. Detainees from other facilities are brought to Florence for their hearing and their deportation. The center as I mentioned above is a staging facility for removal. Detainees from Hondouras, Guatelmala are flown back to their native countries on flights of 128 people. The operating budget of the facility is $5 million per year. The per person cost is $68-$75 per year.

LIRS group

Afterwards we returned to the offices of the Florence Project where we shared our thoughts about what we had seen that morning and had lunch. (Thanks to the Project for a yummy, homestyle Mexican lunch.) Chris Breljie, the founder of the Florence Project, shared its history with us. Judge Taylor explained how important the work of the project is to the system and to the detainees. By having lawyers there to prescreen the detainees, it is much more likely that those who have a valid right to remain in the country will have the chance to present their claim. He talked about the fact that without the rights presentations, citizens and other protected by immigration laws ended up getting lost in the process. The presentations also helps sort out those who have no claim, so that the system moves much more quickly.

One important sidebar about the Florence Project is noteworthy. Several of the lawyers who have worked there in the past have gone on the very prominent positions. Matt Wilch now is on the staff of LIRS, Andrea Black founded Detention Watch, Elizabeth Dallam works in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Chris Nugent is Holland and Knight’s Probono Coordinator, Gina Germain is an adjunct faculty member at Denver Law School and author of the leading practitioner’s guide to asylum law and Lamont Freerks is now a judge in Phoenix.

On the way back to Phoenix, we flew back in Chris’ Cessna Skylane, four-seater plane, and he let me pilot the plane for a bit. Wow!

Dean flying plane

We went from the airport to a church where we talked with parishioners who help resettle refugees. As you might imagine, their needs are great when they first arrive in this country and the churches adopt the families and help easy their transitions.

The next day we went to Southwest Key, which has a contract with ICE to hold undocumented children who have been swk logoapprehended without an adult. Typically children are separated from parents when crossing the border, or came to reunite with a parent, or were street children in their native countries. The 123-bed facility has a multilingual staff of 119, which provides a number of services to the children including healthcare and counseling. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, also has a curriculum for unaccompanied minors on trafficking and challenges in reunification.

LIRS contracts with the Florence Project to have lawyers, Liz Sweet and Aryah Summers, represent the children. Otherwise, they would not have legal representation. The children are in the custody of the ORR. This is a change that LIRS lobbied for. Originally, the children were held in ICE detention or in criminal juvenile facilities. The focus of Southwest Key is family unity. Social workers funded by LIRS perform background checks on the adults who claim the children and perform home visits. The LIRS lawyers act as advocates in deportation proceedings. The goal is to have the children stay in the facility for as little time as possible. Sometimes they are eligible for long term foster care, but there is a need for additional families. LIRS is the sole partner agency that provides the assessments and the legal representation for the children. We interact will all ORR minor facilities.

The general population of the facility at this time of year is 15-17 year old males. When asked why they were there, some say to seek a better life, some that it is a right of passage. Other children came because their parents called them to come. Others were the first in their immediate family to come to the U.S. and sought to join aunts and uncles or other relatives who were already living here.

Although Southwest Key provides healthcare, programming and education to the children, LIRS feels it is not appropriate for long-term care because it is an institution, nevertheless. It’s primary purpose if reunification. The staff stressed the need for more attorneys to represent the children, additional foster homes, and mental health treatment placements.
After our visit to Southwest Key we visited Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest where the Florence Project attorneys who work with the children gave us a presentation on the legal issues that arise during the course of representing them. They also shared with us the reality of what an unaccompanied minor faces when crossing the border. They stressed a need for research on one issue that hadn’t occurred to me. Many children incur tremendous debt in coming to the U.S., and if deported, they are not safe because they owe the lender who sponsored their trip. They are often afraid that they or their family members will suffer because they were not able to stay in the U.S. to work off the debt.

Kids @ LIRS

Ok foodies, I haven forgotten you. Later that evening we decompressed at a restaurant in Phoenix with very good food; however, I cannot remember the name. I had blue cornmeal covered rockfish with a mild pepper sauce and steamed veggies.

The next day we visited with the Phoenix Refugee Resettlement Program (also a part of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and funded in part by LIRS) and heard the stories of several Iraqi refugees who asked that they not be photographed for fear or retaliation against family members still in Iraq. Craig Thorensen, director of the program, explained that the goal is for families to be independent within 180 days. During the first 90 days, the focus is basic services. The agency’s job placement rate is 97 percent. The agency connects refugees with the long-term social and economic services they need such a vocational training, ethnic associations and the area council on aging. Forty-eight Phoenix churches aid in the resettlement process. There have been 350 refugees resettled in Phoenix from 20 countries. They are Karin, Chin Burmese, Burundian, Iraqi, Iranian, Sudanese, Somalian, Congolese, Eritrean and Ethiopian.
We broke for lunch at a wonderful Iraqi restaurant where we had babba ganoush, tabouleh, hummus, lamb, chicken, beef, mixed veggies in sauce, pita bread and baklava.

Charles Shipman, the Arizona State refugee coordinator, visited with us briefly to talk about the statutory role of the state coordinator which is to aid in the resettlement of refugees. He wears two hats in that he channels federal funds (cash and medical assistance) to refugees and disburses discretionary grants to resettlement agencies.

We thanked everyone at the Center and headed to dinner at a wonderful Mexican restaurant

The conference wrapped up Saturday morning with our Board meeting, and I was home by evening. It was nice to kick off my shoes and relax for a little bit before Monday morning rolled around. I hope you all had a chance to unwind, too.