Get to know our Immigration Intervention Project staff

Find out what drew our Immigration Intervention Project staff to Sanctuary and what about their work inspires them.

Working in immigration these days is not easy. Adapting to the rapidly changing policies amidst a constant stream of charged anti-immigrant rhetoric from the White House, and seeing the impacts of both on families here in New York is often as exhausting as it is upsetting.

Our Immigration Intervention Project team, made up of 19 attorneys, case managers, specialists, and project assistants, are committed to helping immigrant gender violence survivors secure and maintain lawful immigration status and obtain U.S. citizenship. Working with partner agencies and city officials, our immigration team strives to support New York’s immigrant communities and empower undocumented survivors of gender violence to build safe and happy lives here in the City.

Get to know a few of our team and find out why they do the hard but important work that they do. 

Sheeba

Staff Attorney, Bronx Family Justice Center

Languages other than English: Tamil and Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: The holistic support that Sanctuary’s immigration clients receive — legal assistance in other areas, counseling, economic empowerment, case management, etc.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: I’m a child of immigrants who grew up in New York City, so helping other immigrants obtain status and unite their families is a great way to pay it forward.

Anne Cécile

Immigration Specialist, Manhattan Family Justice Center

Languages other than English: French, German, Chinese, and basic Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: I try hard never to believe in borders.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: The resilience and strength of survivors, even in these dull times, never ceases to amaze me.

Pooja

Deputy Director, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: French

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: The people. 

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: Our clients’ resilience. 

Ines

Staff Attorney, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: French and Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: My passion for representing vulnerable immigrants in removal proceedings. Legal representation is more than essential to navigate the U.S. immigration court system and win a case. All immigrants facing deportation should be given a fair hearing.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: The courage, strength, and resolve of our clients give me hope. They don’t give up so neither should we.

Natali

Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: Immigrant women are among the most vulnerable groups of immigrants. On top of the forms of domestic violence survivors face, immigrant women face extra barriers to peace and justice, including fear of police and the judicial system, fear of deportation, inadequate shelter and other social services, language and cultural barriers, and lack of access to information about the legal system. When I first found out about Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, I was immediately drawn to its mission to breaking down these barriers for immigrant survivors.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: Our clients! They have gone through unspeakable violence and systematic barriers and still continue to contribute to the United States. The first thing the majority of my clients ask me is how and when they can pay taxes because they want to give back to their new home. Immigrants are not a “drain” on our resources they are the fuel that keeps this nation running. Their strength and hope gives me hope. (sorry cheesy, but it’s so true)

Tayyaba

Senior Staff Attorney, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish, Urdu, and Hindi.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: I was drawn to the opportunity to work with immigrant survivors from across the world and empower them with the knowledge of their rights and remedies, as well as being able to assist them in their immigration needs.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: It gives me hope to see New Yorkers and Sanctuary staff outside of the Immigration Intervention Project taking such an interest and becoming so active in supporting immigrants’ rights. It was great seeing how how recent trip to the border generated so much interest among staff.

Vanessa

Project Assistant, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: My family and I are immigrants from Mexico and I was helped by a non profit to adjust my status, with the current political climate that we are in and the attack on immigrant communities, I felt called to support immigrants and realized i had an interest in Law and wanted to work in a non profit as a way to give back and help.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: That all the colleagues I work with are as passionate as I am and care deeply for all immigrant communities and we want to provide quality work for our clients because they deserve it. I all know the importance of immigrants to this country and to this city so being around people who share that same value is so important to me.

Gaby

Case Manager, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: I want to one day be an immigration attorney.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: Sanctuary provides so many resources to those who feel they have nothing or no where to turn.

Ana

Senior Staff Attorney

Languages other than English: Bosnian.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: To help clients win their cases despite the current administration’s hostile, anti-immigrant policies.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: That we still rise. 

Voices from The Border

Sanctuary attorney Natali Soto writes about our legal team’s experience assisting asylum-seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, as the U.S. implemented new deterrence protocols.

Natali Soto is an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow and an attorney in Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project

In light of the current humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, my fellow Sanctuary immigration attorneys and I spent the first week of February working with asylum-seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. That same week, the U.S. rolled out its “Migrant Protection Protocol,” a policy which requires most asylum seekers who have passed their credible fear interviews to remain in Mexico, instead of the U.S., while they wait for a U.S. Immigration Judge to hear their asylum case.

Throughout our time in Tijuana, we met beautiful souls from all over the world – including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Tajikistan, Chechnya, and Russia – who had fled gender violence and other forms of persecution and violence in their home countries. These migrants had traveled thousands of miles by plane, bus, boat, and by foot, driven by hopes of finding asylum in the U.S.  They endured unimaginable hardships throughout their dangerous journeys only to find out, upon their arrival at the U.S.- Mexico border, that they must “wait in line” for weeks, even months, before being allowed to present their asylum claim to a U.S. Immigration Officer.

Listen to our attorneys describe the circumstances that have forced survivors to flee their home countries and seek refuge in the U.S.

The Current State of the Asylum-Seeking Process

This line-keeping system is a direct outcome of the Trump Administration’s “metering” policy, implemented in November 2018, which limits the number of asylum seekers allowed to enter the US each day. The system, however, is anything but official. Rather than being run by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or any other U.S. or Mexican government agency, the line is managed by migrants who have assumed a leadership role among their peers. Newly-arrived asylum seekers must provide their names and nationalities to these migrant leaders in order to be assigned a number that corresponds to their place in line, supposedly based on the order in which they arrive.

Every day, CBP settles on a seemingly-indiscriminate number of people to allow into the U.S. and notifies Mexican officials who, in turn, pass this information to migrant leaders. The leaders then call out certain migrants’ numbers to indicate that those individuals are now allowed to cross into the U.S. to kickstart the asylum-claim process. Because the U.S. is inconsistent in the number of asylum seekers they’ll accept on any given day, these migrants must show up every morning, with their children and all of their belongings. If they are not present when their number is called, they will have to either plead to keep their spot in line or sign-up for a new number and wait several more weeks.

Migrants whose numbers have been called are lined up, put into vans, driven across the border, and kept in detention centers until their credible fear interviews, where a CBP officer will assess their fear of return to their home country. Unfortunately, even passage of these credible fear interviews does not guarantee temporary safety in the U.S. – under the Migrant Protection Protocol, asylum seekers must meet an even higher “reasonable” fear standard by demonstrating they fear persecution both in their home countries and in Mexico. Unfortunately, many vulnerable individuals who “have not had time to gather evidence that would show their credibility,” or whose claims include trauma-related inconsistencies or omissions, will fail to meet this higher standard and be sent back Mexico to await the adjudication of their asylum case.

Watch Lori Adams, Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, describe the situation at the U.S.-Mexico on the third day of implementation of the “Migrant Protection Protocol.” 

Our Work at the Border

Part of our duties as volunteer attorneys in Tijuana included delivering “Know Your Rights” presentations and meeting with migrants individually to provide them with legal counsel on their respective asylum cases. We also held last-minute credible fear interview prep sessions for migrants whose numbers had been called that morning. Although some migrants had anticipated the strenuous conditions they were about to face upon entering the U.S., others had reasonably assumed the worst of the asylum process was over. Had we not told them, the latter group would not have known that upon entering the U.S., they would be stripped of their extra layers of clothing and forced to await their credible fear interview in freezing holding cells for days at a time.

Listen to Sanctuary attorneys describe how they assisted migrants as they prepared to cross the border to deliver their credible-fear interviews — the first step for claiming asylum in the United States.

While conducting these last-minute interview prep sessions with migrants about to cross the border, my colleagues and I acted as “human shields” to provide privacy for those who needed to change into their warmest base layer. We also provided migrants with Sharpie markers so that they could write their loved ones’ phone numbers on their forearms, in the likely case that ICE would take away their possessions. We also encouraged parents to write their own names and dates of birth on the backs of their children’s shoulders in preparation for the tragic yet foreseeable case of ICE separating families upon crossing. Two young kids with whom I worked thought of these as “cool new tattoos” and showed them off to fellow migrants while their mother held back her tears fearing that these marks would not be enough to keep her children by her side.

Having to explain to families that they would most likely be separated at some point during the asylum claim process and that they would most likely be returned to Mexico while they await adjudication, was soul-crushing. When migrants learned about the new policies central to the current U.S. Immigration System, their hopefulness and excitement would immediately turn into anguish and disappointment, yet for many of them turning back was not an option. When you are fleeing for your life, not even a cruel system that is purposefully set in place to deter you from seeking asylum will dissuade you from pleading for safety.

Listen to our attorneys describe the anguish experienced by migrant families facing separation at the border.

My colleagues and I stayed in San Diego and crossed the border by foot twice a day since the people we were working with were in Tijuana. Throughout the week, I could not avoid thinking of the irony and privilege that underlined our back-and-forth crossings, during which we did as little as wave our U.S. passports to border officials. We were able to easily cross this arbitrary line only because we were born on the “right” side of it, while those who were born elsewhere and are fleeing for their lives were kept waiting for weeks for an opportunity to plead asylum in our country.

We hope that our experiences at the border can further shed light on what has become an undeniable reality – that our current immigration protocols are inhumane and deprive thousands of migrants of their basic human rights. These asylum seekers are fleeing domestic violence, gang violence, and government torture, among other types of unbearable persecution.  Sending them back to Mexico, even after they have passed their credible fear interviews, is a violation of due process. It also puts them at greater risk of harm, for many of them are still being followed by their persecutors and perpetrators.

As a nation founded under the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must embrace those who are most vulnerable, not turn our backs on them.

Please consider donating to Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project to support our work with immigrant survivors of gender violence.

Pa’ lante, mi gente.

Sanctuary’s Comments on the Proposed Title IX Rule

The Proposed Rule makes survivors of sexual misconduct even more disadvantaged in seeking relief for the harm they have suffered than any other category of complainants in school disciplinary proceedings. Sanctuary urges the Department to withdraw the Proposed Rule in its entirety.

On November 16, 2018, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed several changes to Title IX regulations introduced under the Obama administration. The proposal has been open for public comment over a 60-day period that ends on January 30, 2019.

Sanctuary for Families appreciates this opportunity to submit comments to the Department of Education. We thank Gibson Dunn for drafting Sanctuary’s official comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking regarding sexual misconduct in educational programs. 

Background

During the past decade, rates of sexual violence have skyrocketed on college campuses across the country. More than one in five women undergraduates experience an attempted or completed sexual assault during college. The epidemic of sexual violence against women on campus led to widespread calls for more robust and fair procedures to govern how schools address complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.  In 2011, the Department of Education issued guidance, known as the “Dear Colleague Letter,” that required schools to address sexual violence on campus and to implement procedures that would place the complainant and the accused on equal footing in Title IX proceedings.  The Dear Colleague Letter, which was implemented by colleges and universities across the country, was widely praised as striking the right balance between protecting the accused and facilitating the reporting and fair evaluation of complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.

The Department rescinded the Dear Colleague Letter on September 22, 2017 and announced that it would engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking to draft new Title IX regulations.  On November 29, 2018, the Department issued the Proposed Rule[1], which sets forth an extensive set of restrictions and requirements for schools in responding to complaints of sexual misconduct. The Department says that the Proposed Rule is intended to “promote the purpose of Title IX” by requiring schools to address sexual misconduct and to ensure that investigations of sexual misconduct are “fair and impartial” and that “due process protections are in place for individuals accused of sexual harassment.”

Our Comments on the Proposed Rule

The Proposed Rule is nothing short of a wholesale effort to eviscerate Title IX as a mechanism to address sexual misconduct on campus. The Department’s arguments to the contrary are not credible.  The Proposed Rule singles out sexual misconduct—the one type of misconduct on campus that disproportionately impacts females students—and rigs Title IX proceedings in favor of the accused by creating barriers to reporting, limiting what sexual misconduct schools can address, and requiring schools to adopt procedures that put complainants at a significant disadvantage and all but guarantee that the accused prevail. The Proposed Rule would also conflict with and consequently preempt existing state laws that seek to do the opposite: require schools to address sexual misconduct on campus and protect survivors. In short, the Proposed Rule makes survivors of sexual misconduct even more disadvantaged in seeking relief for the harm they have suffered than any other category of complainants in school disciplinary proceedings.

First, the Proposed Rule represents a dramatic departure from prior guidance and existing civil rights laws by limiting the circumstances under which schools may address complaints of sexual misconduct.  Under the Proposed Rule, a school may only address sexual misconduct under Title IX if it meets a narrow definition of “sexual harassment,” occurs within defined geographic areas, and is reported to the correct school employee.  If all of these conditions are not met, then schools are allowed—and in many cases, required—to ignore the report, no matter how serious the sexual misconduct.  By narrowing the definition of “sexual harassment” and limiting the circumstances in which a school may respond to complaints of sexual misconduct pursuant to Title IX, the Proposed Rule enables perpetrators to engage in sexual assault and sexual harassment with impunity.

Second, for the narrow range of sexual misconduct that schools can address, the Proposed Rule mandates that schools implement procedures that favor the accused and that will discourage reporting of sexual misconduct on campus.  This is particularly troubling, given that sexual misconduct on campus is already widely under-reported.  The Proposed Rule requires survivors to satisfy a heightened evidentiary burden while providing significant advantages to the accused—most notably, a presumption of no misconduct, the ability to subject the complainant to cross-examination by an advisor of his choice, and more expansive appeal rights than those provided to the complainant.  Although the Proposed Rule states that such procedures are necessary to ensure that Title IX proceedings are “fair and impartial,” these procedures, in fact, only rig the proceedings in favor of the accused and subject survivors to re-traumatizing investigatory processes and heightened and unnecessary procedural hurdles.

Third, the Proposed Rule would preempt state laws that provide greater protections for survivors.  The Proposed Rule’s broad restrictions on the types of sexual misconduct complaints that schools may address and requirement that schools implement procedures that favor the accused would preempt state laws that currently mandate schools to address a wider range of sexual misconduct on campus and to implement procedures in disciplinary proceedings that place the complainant and accused on equal footing.  As a result, the Proposed Rule serves to not only prohibit schools from using Title IX to address many complaints of sexual misconduct but also guarantees that state laws protecting students from campus sexual violence cannot be enforced.

Taken together, these provisions, if enacted, will fundamentally impair the rights of survivors in favor of protecting the accused.  On its face, the Proposal seeks primarily to protect the reputation and interests of the accused—by shielding a broad range of sexual misconduct from the reach of Title IX, all but guaranteeing that the accused prevail in Title IX proceedings, and preempting state laws that provide protections to survivors.  What is clearly not of concern in the Proposal is the growing epidemic of sexual violence on campus.  The Proposed Rule also ignores the long-lasting, pernicious effects of sexual violence on student survivors:  survivors commonly struggle with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety attacks, and frequently face trauma-induced educational problems, such as declines in academic performance, loss of scholarship funds, delayed degree completion, and transferring schools.

The Proposed Rule—and its slavish protection of the interests of the accused—is premised on a myth that men on campus are the victims of a wave of false reports filed by women.  The data disproves this myth.  Studies of false reporting of sexual assault cases generally place the rate between 2% and 10%. The reality is that there is an epidemic of sexual violence on campus and incidents of sexual misconduct in schools are widely under-reported.  If enacted, the Proposed Rule would allow this very real epidemic to worsen, putting even more women on campus at risk of being sexually assaulted, and would undermine the abilities of schools to take effective action to address sexual violence on campus and hold perpetrators accountable. Sanctuary urges the Department to withdraw the Proposed Rule in its entirety.

 


   [1]   The Proposed Rule refers to “sexual harassment,” which it defines as “an employee of the [school] conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the recipient on an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct; or unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the [school’s] education program or activity; or sexual assault.”  Because the Proposed Rule’s definition of “sexual harassment” also includes sexual assault, Sanctuary will use the term “sexual misconduct” in these comments to encompass both sexual harassment and sexual assault.

 

 

Our Statement: The “Remain in Mexico” Policy Leaves Survivors More Vulnerable to Violence

The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our overburdened and broken immigration system.

Lori Adams is the Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families.

Sanctuary for Families urges Congress to intervene to stop the Trump Administration from implementing its “Remain in Mexico” policy. The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our dysfunctional immigration system.

According to the plan, which DHS began to implement on January 25th, most refugees who reach the U.S.-Mexico border seeking protection in the United States will be required to stay in Mexico while they wait for their first hearing in a U.S. immigration court. 

The Impact

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen calls this a  “humanitarian approach” to address the crisis at the border, but there can be no doubt that the most vulnerable families will suffer under these new protocols. Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala often face violence and persecution so severe that it leaves them with no choice but to embark on a treacherous journey through Mexico to the U.S. Many of them are women and children fleeing gender-based harm. By requiring these families who have already proven “credible fear” to remain in Mexico while they await their immigration court date, we are putting families at risk of further violence.

The stated policy includes an exception for Mexican nationals, unaccompanied children, and refugees who can demonstrate that they are more likely than not to face persecution or torture in Mexico. In practice, however, it will be nearly impossible for migrants who have only been in Mexico for a short time to articulate a greater-than-50% likelihood of persecution or torture, simply due to the fact that such a determination requires knowledge of conditions throughout the country.

Chaos in the Courts

According to DHS, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will be implemented first at the San Ysidro port of entry which connects Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, CA. Rolling out this new policy at one of the busiest land border crossings in the world would be a logistical nightmare under normal circumstances but the Trump Administration’s decision to do so following the conclusion of the longest government shutdown in our country’s history is certain to cause chaos. Immigration courts across the country have been closed for the last month, including the non-detained court in San Diego. The result in San Diego is a backlog that has ballooned to over 800,000 pending immigration cases.

Beyond the case backlog, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will only add to the chaos at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border itself. Refugees will likely miss their court dates in the United States due solely to the logistical hurdles of transporting them across an international border and getting them to a courthouse in the United States in time for their hearings.

Congress Must Act

There is a crisis in the U.S. immigration system, but it is not the crisis that the Trump Administration has described in the context of his administration’s recent border proposals. Congress should demand an immediate halt to the “Remain in Mexico” policy and the “Migrant Protection Protocols” that followed. These policies violate our international and domestic law obligations to protect those who flee to our border seeking protection. The United States must return to the rule of law to ensure that we remain a safe haven for survivors of gender-based harm and others who flee to the U.S. for protection because they have no other options.

Sanctuary is Taking Action

Sanctuary for Families is a leading provider of immigration legal services for survivors of gender-based harm. We are based in New York City where many refugees, survivors of trafficking and other vulnerable immigrants, receive our life-saving services every day.  Over the next two weeks, we will be sending two delegations of immigration attorneys to Tijuana where they will provide legal and humanitarian assistance to migrants, including survivors of gender-based harm, who will be disproportionally impacted by this new policy.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to receive updates from the border, and please consider donating if you would like to provide financial support to sustain this life-saving work.

Thank you for your support for Sanctuary for Families, and for the immigrant survivors of violence who rely on our services.