Paul Hastings Team Helps Young Siblings Secure Special Status, Avoid Deportation

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings for their persistent advocacy in helping Alejandra and Diego successfully petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”) and continue on the path toward obtaining legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Louisa Irving is an attorney and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. 

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings for their persistent advocacy in helping Alejandra and Diego successfully petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”), thereby allowing these siblings to avoid deportation and continue on the path toward obtaining legal permanent resident status in the United States.  The team consisted of Paul Hastings Senior Counsel & Global Pro Bono Chair Brian P. Morgan, Of Counsel Susan Wade, Associate Eduardo Gonzalez, and Associate Zachary S. Zwillinger; as well as former associates Jeanette Kang (now an AUSA) and Aisling Murray (now at O’Melveny & Myers LLP).

In mid-2016, siblings Alejandra and Diego arrived at the southern border of the United States with their mother and another sibling, after courageously making the journey from their home in Guatemala to escape life-threatening violence, verbal, and emotional abuse by their father.  After being released from detention on the border, this family unit traveled to New York in search of stability and security.  Alejandra and Diego’s mother found work and began to build a new life for her children.  She connected with immigration attorneys at Sanctuary for Families, who placed her case with the team at Paul Hastings.  The team from Paul Hastings continues to work on a domestic violence-based asylum claim on behalf of Alejandra and Diego’s mother, listing her children as derivative beneficiaries, but is being honored now for its zealous and compassionate advocacy helping Alejandra and Diego secure SIJ Status.

In the spring of 2019, the team from Paul Hastings started preparing tandem SIJS cases for Alejandra, now 10 years old, and Diego, now 19 years old.  First, the team obtained Guardianship and Special Findings Orders from Queens Family Court.  This was no easy feat and required three grueling hearings before a Referee who asked pointed questions of Alejandra, Diego, and their mother.  The team made it a priority to both prepare the family for what to expect during these hearings, and to debrief with the family following these adversarial and emotionally-difficult hearings.  After obtaining the predicate Guardianship and Special Findings Orders, the team from Paul Hastings filed SIJS applications on behalf of Alejandra and Diego with USCIS and received approvals in June 2020.  The indefatigable and effective advocacy of the team from Paul Hastings lifted the threat of deportation that loomed over this family.  Now, Alejandra and Diego are able to enjoy the stability and tranquility of a life their mother courageously fought to give them.

Pooja Asnani, Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, who nominated the team from Paul Hastings, described them as incredibly dedicated and “undeterred” in the face of very challenging circumstances in Queens Family Court.  For Paul Hastings, it was a true team effort as this pro bono team was comprised of experienced and more junior litigators, as well as corporate attorneys.  The team worked closely and concurrently on the asylum and SIJS matters, and were amazed by the support from Sanctuary staff, who they described as “phenomenal people.”

In the words of Corporate Department Associate Eduardo Gonzalez, who has worked with Sanctuary on a number of immigration cases, the best part of this work is “sharing the good news with the client and seeing the relief and joy in their eyes.”

 “That’s why I will always do immigration work. . . It is such a refreshing change of pace to be touching someone’s life.”  — Eduardo Gonzalez, Associate. 

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor Paul Hasting’s outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs Come Together to Help Sanctuary’s Clients

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. for their compassionate pro bono assistance on behalf of twelve Sanctuary clients and their families.

Tushna Gamadia is a member of Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council and an Of Counsel in the Real Estate Group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. She works on a number of family law and immigration cases pro bono, including for Sanctuary for Families clients who have inspired her with their courage, determination and hope.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. for their compassionate pro bono assistance on behalf of twelve Sanctuary clients and their families. The team consisted of Susan Wade, Of Counsel at Paul Hastings; Justin Capozzi, Associate at Paul Hastings; Colleen M. O’Brien, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Goldman Sachs; and Juan Castano, Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs.  

A group of dedicated volunteers from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. teamed up in April 2019 at a clinic at Paul Hastings LLP to help 12 Sanctuary for Families’ clients and their family members adjust their status from U Nonimmigrant Status to permanent resident status before their U-visas expired.

This day was a significant milestone in our clients’ journeys toward a safe, secure and hopeful future. Each of them and their families had survived domestic violence and trauma and with great strength and courage came forward to cooperate with law enforcement to seek justice against their abusers. As a result of this cooperation, they had been granted U-Visa status by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), a status that allows survivors to live and work in the United States and makes them eligible for permanent resident status after four years.  The goal of this clinic was to help the clients complete and submit their permanent residency applications to USCIS before their U-visas expired in October 2019, thus allowing them and their families to continue to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.  Securing permanent resident status also puts them on the path to one day obtaining U.S. citizenship.

The success of the clinic in helping so many clients so efficiently and skillfully would not have been possible without the extraordinary leadership of Susan Wade, Of Counsel at Paul Hastings; Justin Capozzi, Associate at Paul Hastings; Colleen M. O’Brien, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Goldman Sachs; and Juan Castano, Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Susan, Justin, Colleen, and Juan recruited a large number of volunteers to represent clients, interpret for clients, and make sure the clinic day ran smoothly.  Colleen and Juan organized a training session at Goldman Sachs in advance of the clinic so that volunteers were prepared and knew what to expect, especially in terms of understanding the trauma their clients have experienced and had to relive during the process of obtaining their U-Visa.

After the training, Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs volunteers formed teams and reviewed the clients’ files in advance of the meeting so that they were fully prepared to assist each client with completing the bulk of their application at the clinic.  Paul Hastings’ attorneys completed any necessary follow up and finalized the applications for submission to USCIS.

“Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs really mobilized a tremendous amount of resources, pro bono attorneys and volunteers, conference rooms, and positive energy to make this happen,” said Sanctuary Immigration Intervention Project (IIP) attorney Anne-Cecile Raphael.

The Sanctuary IIP attorneys who assisted with the clinic were impressed and excited by the level of energy and enthusiasm from the volunteers, who refused to allow the current anti-immigrant climate to have a chilling effect on their clients’ ability to apply for immigration benefits.

“The level of professionalism and care they displayed really impressed us all. Susan, Justin, Colleen, and Juan really created a unique opportunity for Sanctuary clients to spend time together and interact with each other, as well as with the volunteers. Having the support of others who have gone through similar experiences as well as knowing that they each had a team of 3 or 4 committed and compassionate volunteers to help them submit their application for a green card really helped the clients feel comfortable and confident in taking this step forward,” said Raphael.

“Susan and Justin are incredibly knowledgeable, organized, and trauma-informed. Their commitment to Sanctuary’s immigration clients is inspiring, and we were so happy that they were leading the charge to ensure so many clients got help with applications that, given the current anti-immigration climate, were really causing our clients a lot of anxiety,” said Sanctuary Pro Bono Director Nicole Fidler.

The volunteers, like the clients, were a diverse group in terms of background, ages and experience levels, but they were all committed to helping their clients achieve an important step towards their American dream of safety, opportunity, dignity and a chance at happiness for their families. For many of the volunteers, assisting in the clinic felt close to home because they came from immigrant families. For others, it was a great introduction to pro bono work or a way to dedicate a finite amount of time from their hectic work schedules to make a big and significant impact in the life of a brave survivor. For others, it was an extension of their commitment to pro bono work, including years of on-going commitment to Sanctuary’s clients or an extension of their work on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. The diligent team work of these volunteers is an inspiration to other law firms and companies as a great way to come together to help make a positive impact in the lives of courageous and inspiring people and learn a great deal in return.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Paul Hastings’ and Goldman Sachs’ outstanding pro bono work. You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

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.

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.