News

Fastcase 7 New Features

A new Fastcase 7 update provides highlighting for your search terms when viewing the full text of a document. Each term is highlighted with a different color so that you can see the occurrence of each item separately. You can also turn off the highlighting function for both, and each term individually by choosing the highlight dropdown option, then selecting the ‘x’ across from the term. See this and all new features of TBA’s member benefit Fastcase 7 here.

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Immigrant Rights Groups Don't Anticipate ICE Raids in Tennessee This Weekend

Immigrant rights advocates predict that no Tennessee cities will be on the list if the Trump administration moves ahead with planned immigration raids in at least 10 major cities across the U.S. this weekend, Knoxnews reports. If the raids occur — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials won't say — immigrant advocates nationwide plan to follow the example set when local groups responded to the ICE raid that rounded up nearly 100 workers at an East Tennessee slaughterhouse last year.
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ICE Raids Expected to Begin on Sunday

Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin nationwide raids as soon as Sunday to arrest and deport some 2,000 immigrants who have been issued removal orders, U.S. News and World Report reports. The raids were originally planned for June but were postponed by President Donald Trump. They will include collateral arrests of immigrants in the country illegally who are at the site of the raids but are not specific targets of ICE. The operation will focus on families who recently entered the country illegally.
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Vandy Law Immigration Clinic Honored with Pro Bono Award

The Vanderbilt University Law School Immigration Clinic and law professor Karla M. McKanders were the recipient of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s MidSouth Pro Bono Award for their work in finding pro bono attorneys for individuals arrested in the Immigration Customs Enforcement raid in Morristown last year. The AILA MidSouth Pro Bono Champions Award recognizes individuals or organizations who "… promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members."
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Though Real ID Will Be Required to Travel, Tennesseans Still Opting for Traditional License

After Oct. 1, 2020, Americans will be required to use “Real ID”-complaint identification to fly, enter a federal office or visit a nuclear plant, but Tennesseans aren’t signing up for the new requirements just yet, Knoxnews reports. If the first days of Real ID’s availability, only a third of the nearly 21,000 licenses issued were compliant. Applicants for a Real ID need proof of legal residence, such as a birth certificate or passport; proof of Social Security number — an actual card, recent W-2 or Form 1099; and two proofs of Tennessee residence, such as a utility bill, bank statement, tax return, lease or current driver’s license.
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DOJ Changes Legal Team Behind Citizenship Question Case

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to not allow a citizenship question on the 2020 census, the Justice Department announced a major shakeup to its team of lawyers involved in the ongoing legal battle, NPR reports. Though the DOJ said last week it would begin printing the census forms without the question, the president tweeted shortly after that his administration was "absolutely moving forward" with pursuing the question's inclusion. The president's comments caught the attention of U.S. District Judge George Hazel, who called for an emergency hearing by phone last week.
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TBA House of Delegates Seeks to Fill 13 Open Positions

In accordance with Article 29 of the TBA Bylaws, the officers of the House of Delegates will fill 13 open positions in the House. If you would like to be considered for one of these positions, please submit a declaration of candidacy that includes your name, principal place of law practice, district of interest and contact information to TBA Executive Director Joycelyn Stevenson by July 15. Read a list of open positions here.
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After SCOTUS Blocks Citizenship Question, Trump Says He'll Delay Census

President Trump today vowed to try delaying the 2020 census after the Supreme Court blocked his administration's plan to include a question that inquires about citizenship status, Fox News reports. The court had said that the administration's explanation for adding the question was insufficient and sent it back to the lower courts for further consideration. The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said that the court was presented "with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision making process."
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TBA Debuts New Podcast Network

The Tennessee Bar Association Podcast Network launched today with the premiere of two shows-- Sidebar and BarBuzz. Sidebar is a magazine podcast featuring compelling stories from attorneys across the state. BarBuzz is a monthly rundown of TBA news and upcoming events at the local and state bar levels. Both shows are now available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn and the TBA's website. Simply search the show title or "Tennessee Bar Association" wherever you listen to podcasts. Do you have a story lead you'd like to submit for a future episode? Submit your ideas here!

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ABA President Critical of 'Unsafe and Unhealthy' Conditions for Children in Federal Facilities

The American Bar Association is "appalled" by reports of hundreds of children being held in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in federal facilities, according to a statement issued by ABA President Bob Carlson. "The U.S. Department of Justice has argued that bedding, soap, showers and toothbrushes are not necessary to maintain the 'safe and sanitary' conditions for immigrant children in federal custody" that the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement sets as a minimum standards for their care, Carlson said. He also called for federal authorities to end the practices and provide attorneys access to facilities operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
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Use Your Prepaid TBA CLE Credits Before Monday!

TBA members have until June 30 to use the 2018-2019 CLE credits that come with their memberships. Use the credits now to register for any TBA course taking place this summer or fall, or any online course, as long as you register by June 30. Don’t let these valuable credits go to waste! Find more information on how to use your credits, and if you haven’t done so already, remember to renew your TBA membership for the upcoming year to get more CLE credits.
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Full Upgrade to Fastcase 7 Coming July 22

The TBA will be upgrading to Fastcase 7 — the latest in legal research technology — on July 22. Start the transition by reviewing the helpful resource page to learn new and advanced research tools and view training videos and reference guides. Did you know that as a member benefit Fastcase also offers research assistance? Use the LiveChat feature located on the Fastcase website, email support@fastcase.com or call 866-773-2782, Option 2, to speak with a research attorney. 
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Federal Judge: Judiciary Has No Authority to Enter Fight Over Border Wall Lawsuit

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled that he has no jurisdiction to enter the fight between President Donald Trump and the U.S. House of Representatives over the use of unappropriated funds to build a border wall, the ABA Journal reports. “This is a case about whether one chamber of Congress has the ‘constitutional means’ to conscript the judiciary in a political turf war with the president over the implementation of legislation,” U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden wrote. “While the Constitution bestows upon members of the House many powers, it does not grant them standing to hale the executive branch into court claiming a dilution of Congress’ legislative authority. The court therefore lacks jurisdiction to hear the House’s claims."
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Visa Applicants Now Required to Submit Social Media Accounts

Visa applicants to the United States are required to submit any information about social media accounts they have used in the past five years under a State Department policy that started on Friday, The New York Times reports. The move represents a step up from a September 2017 measure in which the Homeland Security Department proposed and enacted a regulation calling for the surveillance of social media use of all immigrants, including naturalized citizens. During the Obama administration, the State Department began to ask visa applicants to voluntarily submit their social media information.
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ABA President 'Deeply Disturbed' by Reports of Prolonged Child Detention at Border

American Bar Association President Bob Carlson issued a statement today, stating the organization is "deeply disturbed" by reports that hundreds of unaccompanied children are being held by the U.S. Border Patrol in violation of the law and federal policies. According to federal law and court orders, immigrant children generally cannot be held by law enforcement for more than 72 hours before being transferred to shelters that are better equipped to care for their needs. Yet reports cite recent federal data that hundreds of children, many aged 12 and younger, have been held in Border Patrol custody for an average of six days, in facilities that are intended to be short-term processing stations. "The current situation is unacceptable," Carlson said in the statement, calling on Congress and the White House to address it immediately.
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Judge Issues Injunction Halting Plan to Finance Border Wall

A California federal judge last week granted a preliminary injunction which prevents the Trump administration from redirecting funds in order to pay for the construction of a border wall, The New York Times reports. Judge Haywood Gilliam of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California is overseeing two lawsuits related to border wall financing, one filed by the State of California along with 19 other states and a second from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition. Both suits allege that President Trump’s attempt to fund the project without congressional approval surpasses his constitutional authority. The suit brought by the ACLU seeks to block the president from accessing Department of Defense funds and claims that the president’s emergency declaration was an abuse of power as well as a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

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Trump Immigration Proposal Puts Focus on Worker Skills

President Donald Trump recently outlined his administration’s new immigration proposal that would bolster funding for infrastructure at the border and tie the allocation of visas more explicitly to job skills, The Wall Street Journal reports, and less on family ties, refugee admissions or the existing diversity lottery. The plan would favor immigrants from three skills-based categories: workers with extraordinary talent, workers in sought-after specialized vocations and exceptional students.
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Your TBA Free CLE Credits Expire June 30

TBA members receive three hours of free CLE programming. Your credits expire June 30 for the current bar year. You may apply them to any available course here or donate them. Members can use this credit to cover all or part of the cost of live programs or on any online CLE program. (The course does not have to take place by June 30.)
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Memphis Judge Under Fire for Facebook Post

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Jim Lammey is facing criticism for a Facebook post, in which he shared an article by a Holocaust denier calling Muslim immigrants “foreign mud,” the Commercial Appeal reports. Lammey faces immigrant felons in court and is the only Criminal Court judge in the county to regularly order some immigrants seeking probation to register with federal immigration authorities or stay in jail. When asked about the post, Lammey said, “I see where I said, ‘Interesting read. Some four-letter words, though.' I don’t know if that meant that I agreed with it all or if it was just a reason to have a good conversation."
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TBA Recap: Immigration Law Forum 2019

The TBA Immigration Law Section recently held its annual forum in Nashville. Over 50 attendees participated in thought-provoking sessions on a variety of immigration law issues. The TBA would like to thank Section Chair and program producer Terry Olsen as well as the entire executive council for their efforts in planning and executing a superb program. 

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ABA President Urges Attorney General to Reconsider Asylum-Seeker Detention

ABA President Bob Carlson wrote in a letter sent to Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday that his recent decision to remove the right of certain asylum-seekers to receive a bond hearing before an immigration judge will not only harm asylum-seekers, but the entire immigration court system, the ABA Journal reports. Carlson urged Barr to reconsider his decision which ordered the detention of some asylum-seekers pending resolution of their cases, even though they were able to show a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home countries. Carlson points out that Barr’s decision overturns long-standing precedent.
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SCOTUS Appears Ready to Allow Citizenship Question on Census Form

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today on whether a citizenship question can be included on forms for the upcoming 2020 census, and appeared split along ideological lines, NPR reports. Based on their questions during today's oral arguments at the high court, the justices appear ready to vote 5-4 to allow the Trump administration to add the questions for next year's head count. Conservative justices say there is historical precedent for inclusion of the question, while liberal justices argue that the question will result in fewer people filling out the form. The decision matters because population counts will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets for the next decade. The data also guides the distribution of $880 billion a year in federal funding for schools, roads and other public services.
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No-Match Letters Are Back

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has resumed issuance of Employer Correction Request notices, commonly referred to as “Social Security No-Match Letter” or “No-Match Letter”. These notifications are going to businesses whom submitted wage and tax statements (Form W-2) that contain name and Social Security number (SSN) combinations that do not match SSA’s records.

I.          Why Employers Receive “No-Match Letters?

There are a number of reasons, legitimate and illegitimate, why reported names and SSNs may not agree with SSA’s records, including a misspelled name or SSN with a transposed number; a change in the worker’s name due to marriage or divorce; incomplete information on a W-4 or W-2; or use of compound names which are not perfectly aligned in the government databases. Of course, mismatches could also be due to the use of false SSNs.

Although one should not assume a no-match letter equals an unauthorized or undocumented worker, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and its successor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have told employers that receipt of one of these notifications creates an affirmative duty to investigate the discrepancy. And an employer’s failure to follow-up with an employee could lead to a finding of constructive knowledge of unauthorized employment.

II.         History of No-Match Letters

Let’s try to put some background to no-match letters. In 1993, the SSA began sending no-match letters to employers who submitted SSNs that did not match its records.

In 2006, President George W. Bush’s administration decided these discrepancies could be evidence of unauthorized employment. Thus, it issued a regulation setting forth procedures for employers to follow upon receipt of an SSA no-match letter. Employers who followed those procedures were provided a safe harbor from allegations of having "constructive knowledge" of unauthorized employment. Employers who did not may be found to have constructive knowledge of employees’ unauthorized work status.

Before the regulation could be enforced, it was enjoined by a federal court. This litigation continued between 2007 and 2009. The Obama administration rescinded the regulation and suspended all communication to employers regarding data mismatches in 2012.

Despite no regulation, ICE still regards an employer's failure to act upon discovering a Social Security discrepancy as evidence of constructive knowledge of unauthorized employment. During I-9 form audits, Notices of Inspection usually subpoena employers’ records concerning no-match letters.

III.        IER’s Position

Another potential problem is that the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice, who is responsible for ensuring that employers don’t go too far in their employment verification duties. With regards to no-match letters, IER has stated mere receipt of such a letter, without any other evidence, does not give rise to constructive knowledge that an employee is unauthorized to work. Doing so may be considered an unfair documentary practice or evidence of discrimination based on citizenship, national original, or immigration status.

IV.       Guidance from IER

In 2011, the predecessor to the IER, Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), provided guidance on “do’s and don’ts” related to No-Match Letters. Here are some of these tips:

DO:

1. Check the reported no-match information against your personnel records.

2. Inform the employee of the no-match notice and ask the employee to confirm his name/SSN reflected in your personnel records.

3. Advise the employee to contact the SSA to correct and/or update his SSA records.

4. Give the employee a reasonable period of time (no specific time period is listed) to address a reported no-match with the local SSA office.

5. Periodically meet with or otherwise contact the employee to learn and document the status of the employee’s efforts to address and resolve the no-match.

6. Submit any employer or employee corrections to the SSA.

DON’T:

1. Use the receipt of a no-match notice alone as a basis to terminate, suspend or take other adverse action against the employee.

2. Attempt to immediately reverify the employee’s employment eligibility by requesting the completion of a new I-9 form based solely on the no-match notice.

3. Follow different procedures for different classes of employees based on national origin or citizenship status.

4. Require the employee to produce specific documents to address the no-match.

V.        Conclusion

What happens if your employee does not respond to the letter or otherwise act to resolve the issue? Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer. But HR should not bury their head in the sand. Rather, it should proactively work to resolve the problem.

As you see, this will continue to be a difficult issue for employers. Remember if one gets a no-match letter, follow the above guidance and consult with your immigration/employment attorney before taking any action against an employee.


Bruce E. Buchanan is the founding partner of Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC located in Nashville and Atlanta. He is also “Of Counsel” to Siskind Susser, P.C. on employer immigration compliance matters. Bruce is a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law. Bruce is the co-author of I-9 and E-Verify Handbook and a blogger on immigration compliance issues at www.employerimmigration.com. He may be reached at bbuchanan@sblimmigration.com or (615) 345-0266.

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Tennessee’s New Anti-Immigration Law

In 2018, the Tennessee state legislature passed a controversial law concerning the extent to which local governments may control how local law enforcement agencies interact with the federal government on immigration enforcement.  In April 2018, the Tennessee state legislature passed House Bill 2315 and presented it to then-Governor Bill Haslam.  In statement the next month explaining his refusal to sign the law, he said that it was a “solution looking for a problem and has primarily served to stir up fear on both sides of the issue ….”  (See https://publications.tnsosfiles.com/acts/110/pub/pc0973.pdf).

HB 2315, which took effect on January 1 of this year, prohibits any local or state governmental entity or official from adopting a “sanctuary policy.”  It defines such a policy a sweeping manner to include any informal or formal “directive, order, ordinance, resolution, practice, or policy” that does any of the following:

(1) restricts or forbids local governments/officials from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies or officials to verify or report the citizenship or immigration status of any individual, or bar law enforcement agencies from asking about the citizenship or immigration status of any person; (2) grants a right to “lawful presence” within Tennessee to any foreign national who is not lawfully present here under federal law; (3) restricts or imposes conditions on a state or local governmental entity's cooperation or compliance with U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detainers to keep a foreign national detained or to transfer him or her to DHS custody; (4) requires DHS to get a warrant or show probable cause for the entity to comply with a detainer.

To enforce these provisions, HB2315 provides that any “local government entity that adopts or enacts a sanctuary policy is ineligible to enter into any grant contract with the department of economic and community development until the sanctuary policy is repealed, rescinded or otherwise no longer in effect.”  Further, if a court finds that such an entity or official has violated the prohibition against “sanctuary policies,” the new law provides that the court “shall” issue a writ of mandamus to require compliance or enjoin the non-compliance.

HB2315 also does not merely bar “sanctuary policies,” but also authorizes (and arguably encourages) law enforcement agencies to ratchet up their involvement with immigration enforcement.  The bill affirmatively authorizes “all law enforcement agencies and officials … to communicate with the appropriate federal official regarding the immigration status of any individual, including reporting knowledge that a particular alien is not lawfully present in the United States or otherwise to cooperate with the appropriate federal official in the identification, apprehension, detention, or removal of aliens not lawfully present in the United States.”  The new law also authorizes law enforcement agencies to move beyond cooperation to direct enforcement of federal immigration via a memorandum of agreement (“MOA”) between the agency and federal government.  Such agreements may “[a]llow for the enforcement of federal immigration laws to the full extent permitted under federal law” but also requires officers to be trained in accordance with the MOA.

As might be expected with a law of this nature, its passage was controversial.  One commentator wrote that “[i]n effect, the new state law requires local police officers to become federal ICE agents. It's sort of like requiring the local property tax collector to arrest someone for filing a fraudulent federal income tax form.”  See https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/columnists/david-waters/2019/01/07/tennessee-immigration-law-shelby-county-asks-local-officials-break/2501410002/.  The Shelby County attorney concluded the new law was “void” and does not apply to the county or the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.  Nevertheless, that sheriff continues to honor requests from ICE to notify it about inmate releases.  See https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2019/01/02/county-attorney-says-new-immigration-law-doesnt-apply-shelby-county-hb-2315-sanctuary-city-policy/2467989002/.  There are indications that Governor Bill Lee has initiated an investigation into Shelby County for non-compliance with HB2315.  See https://www.courthousenews.com/new-immigration-law-sows-fear-in-tennessee/.

Many commentators have pointed to how this new law could undermine local law enforcement due to contributing to a climate of fear among foreign nationals and their families, friends, co-workers and employers.  The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) has characterized HB2315 as “one of the most extreme, anti-immigrant laws in the country.”  Fear is a common theme articulated by foreign nationals in the state, with one immigration attorney in Chattanooga noting a growing tendency by local police to more proactively check the immigration status of those who are subjected to law enforcement action.  See https://www.courthousenews.com/new-immigration-law-sows-fear-in-tennessee/.

The fears associated with how HB2315 could be implemented in local communities are consistent with the findings of a study about how Davidson County implemented a prior agreement with the federal government over immigration enforcement from 2007 to 2012.  See https://www.aclu-tn.org/consequences-costs-lessons-learned-tennessees-jail-model-287g-program/.  These agreements, then and now, are authorized by section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The ACLU report concluded the 287(g) program led to deportations for relatively minor, often traffic-related offenses and “encouraged racial profiling and disparate treatment from stop to detention, based on characteristics such as appearance, ethnicity or language skills.”  Given those outcomes, the report found that the 287(g) program in Davidson County “led to immigrants living in fear and distrust of law enforcement,” including a reluctance to report “crimes they experienced or witnessed, ultimately undermining public safety as a whole.”

Within Tennessee, only the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has adopted  a MOA with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). See https://www.ice.gov/287g.  But at least for now, the Knox County MOA (available at https://www.ice.gov/doclib/287gMOA/KnoxCounty.pdf) appears to be more limited in scope that the breadth of enforcement activity that could have been implemented under HB2315.  That MOA authorizes local officials to perform “certain functions of an immigration officer within the KCSO’s jail/correctional facilities” and not outside those premises.  Of course, should that sheriff desire to modify the MOA in the future to allow his deputies to venture outside the local jails to engage in immigration enforcement, under HB2315, he would be free to negotiate an amendment to the MOA to enable his deputies to do so.

HB2315 appears to have contributed to a perception among foreign nationals that they are at increased risk during any interaction with law enforcement—whether as a defendant, victim or witness.  The new law eliminates the ability of local government entities and law enforcement to give absolute assurances to foreign nationals concerning their personal security vis a vis immigration enforcement.  As a result, the new law could undermine local government efforts to investigate and prosecute crime because individuals without legal immigration status may feel that it is too unsafe for them to participate.  The increasing presence of ICE officers at local courthouses and the practices of many jurisdictions to notify ICE for defendants who lack social security numbers merely reinforces such perceptions.

While the new law does not augment the legal right of a local law enforcement officer to stop a foreign national, HB2315 authorizes police to “ask for papers” incident to a lawful stop.  Moreover, an officer presumably may ask an individual about his or her immigration status if there is not a seizure of that individual.  Most foreign nationals, who are unaware of their constitutional rights during such interactions, may well volunteer information that need not have been disclosed.  Many who are acculturated to defer to authority figures will end up doing just that. 

Unfortunately, many foreign nationals who are subject to HB2315 and the vast array of other immigration laws remain uninformed.  Given the increased focus on immigration-related enforcement, it is now more important than ever for such individuals to be referred to a competent immigration law practitioner for advice and counsel.


Steven J. Simerlein is the founder of Immigration Law Offices of Steven J. Simerlein. He is a graduate of Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University in 1991. He may be reached at sjsimerlein@gmail.com or (615) 750-3142.

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Beyond Walls and Policies

Let’s say you are a single mother living in Central America and one day a man approaches you demanding you pay him 20% of your hard-earned salary. You have three children to feed, a household to run and simply cannot afford to give up any part of your paycheck.

Let’s say one week later your youngest son brings you a handwritten note. This notes states that if you do not comply with the request for payment, your son will not be coming home anymore. You are afraid and go to the police station to file a report. At the police station you see the same man that first approached you and he is dressed in a police uniform.

Let’s say you pack as much as you can from your life into a suitcase, grab your children and decide to flee. Your children are furious because you are leaving behind friends, toys, memories, everything they have ever known.

Let’s say your journey north includes riding a train with cartel members, sleeping in shelters whenever you are lucky, and when you are not, sleeping in the streets. You begin praying that you will be able to feed your children and are horrified by this drastic turn in their happy upbringing.

Let’s say you finally make it to the border of the country where your sister is waiting with hopes of a better future for you and your children. Upon arrival then learn that the border is closed and that you will wait days before making your case. You end up in a shelter with 60 other women with children. You see your children play and laugh, but you hate yourself because these are childhood memories no one should have.

In December 2018, I traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, with a group of volunteer attorneys, law school professors and students to assist migrants from Central and South America who arrived at the San Ysidro border via the second caravan[1] to traverse the Americas. We had flown and driven from across the United States in response to the Trump administration’s latest announcement calling for a partial shutdown of the asylum process along the southern border. This was not, however, an isolated announcement and just another change in immigration policy that has been implemented since Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

At the very beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign, he threatened to build a wall at the United States/Mexico border with the intent of preventing illegal immigration. Despite expert opinions regarding this proposal’s inability to curb illegal immigration, Trump’s rhetoric has remained strong. At the very time of our visit to Tijuana, the fight over this campaign promise to build a border wall began the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

Although a physical border wall has not yet been erected, for the immigrant community the promise of this wall represents one small brick in what has been a massive and rapid change in United States immigration policy. These changes represent not only a change in policy but a change in rhetoric and how we talk about immigration in this country. Two examples of these drastic changes include the removal of “nation of immigrants” from the USCIS new mission statement[2] and a change in the “catch and release” policy enforced by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). With this new policy, asylum seekers waiting for a court hearing date are facing indefinite incarceration.

In Tijuana, we met volunteers and staff members of Al Otro Lado, a small non-profit organization providing services to immigrants waiting to make their way through the U.S. border. On our first day in the city, staff members divided the volunteers into groups and assigned each group to a local relief site. While at our individual sites, we met with asylum seekers to provide know your rights presentations and thorough information regarding the asylum process.

Every morning in Tijuana begins the same way, with an unofficial ceremony taking place at the small plaza located next to the San Ysidro port of entry. Each morning at 7 a.m., the crowds gather to listen to a person call out “la lista[3] (the list). This list is a large notebook containing the handwritten names of immigrant families waiting to present themselves to immigration authorities. Every family written in the book is waiting to make their claim for asylum. If your name is called, then you will have the opportunity to present your case in front of U.S. authorities. If your name is not called, you must wait another day until the unknown time when your name is called.

During this ceremony, we walked around the crowd, providing information about their rights as asylum seekers, answering questions, and making referrals to our main office where individuals could meet with volunteer pro-bono immigration attorneys to get an assessment of their situation. From what I could tell, there was little organization or structure to the notebook’s format or order of priority. The notebook is managed by asylum seekers who themselves are waiting their turn to go to the port of entry. Once the notebook manager is called for their turn, the notebook is passed on to another asylum seeker believed to be responsible enough to manage its import. Even now, months after my visit to Tijuana, I find it shocking that the fate of thousands of individuals and families are dependent on a mysterious, handwritten notebook and those who manage it.

Across the United States, immigrant communities have felt a severe change in policy since day one of the Trump administration. In just over two years, we have witnessed an attempt to cancel programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protective Status (TPS), an increase in immigration enforcement and divisive rhetoric that no doubt will have a long-lasting effect on United States’ public opinion regarding immigration.  

This rhetoric and sweeping policy change mean immigrant families are now living in a constant state of fear. In a system that does not provide detained immigrants with the right to court-appointed attorneys, many detainees are struggling to navigate the immigration process and fighting to remain in the country. As a result, detained immigrants are more dependent on nonprofit organizations and pro bono attorneys to represent them before the authorities. It is in times like these, that the work of organizations like Al Otro Lado and attorneys working in a pro-bono capacity are vital to defend the most vulnerable among us.


The author of this article is Alvaro Manrique Barrenechea, a 2019 LLM Candidate at Vanderbilt University School of Law. Alvaro is a 2013 graduate of Universidad de Lima (Peru) Law School. He may be reached at alvaro.a.manrique.barrenechea@vanderbilt.edu.


[1]A second migrant caravan of 2,000 is moving through southern Mexico, USA Today (last visited April 15, 2019).

[2]U.S. immigration agency updates statement to no longer say “nation of immigrants”, CNN, (last visited April 15, 2019).

[3]For many waiting in Tijuana, a mysterious notebook is the key to seeking asylum, LA Times,  (last visited April 15, 2019).

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