Good News Is Bad News: An Interview With An Immigration Attorney

Good News Is Bad News: An Interview With An Immigration Attorney March 17, 2017

Have your clients been taking advantage of any benefits or programs (such as Welfare) that were meant to help citizens? Is there any truth to the notion that undocumented migrants steal anything from citizens and the government?

I haven’t seen it.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, of course.  But on the whole, I do not see that at all.  The people I work with know that they aren’t eligible for benefits.  Some families have a child or several children who are eligible for benefits as citizens, and apply for those benefits on behalf of their children.  But those are services designed to help the children specifically.  To the extent that anyone living in a community benefits from the public services like schools and roads and parks, yes, undocumented immigrants gain from benefits from these things.  They also pay sales tax and property tax and tolls and, in many if not most cases, payroll taxes.  How those numbers wash out at the end of the day will always be a subject for endless debate, but for those of us who will never be statisticians, I would say the best way to get a sense for how undocumented immigrants interact with our citizenry is to befriend and get to know and spend time in and with a local immigrant community.


How are undocumented migrants treated, compared to other criminals, when they are arrested? What are the conditions for them in jail? Would you say they’re treated humanely?

This is wading into Constitutional law territory that I am not very well versed in.  It comes back to the fact that immigration violations (like being here without having been lawfully admitted, or overstaying a visa) are not crimes.  Therefore, people detained for an immigration violation are not entitled to all the same rights as a person being charged criminally.  For example, the 4th amendment guarantees protection against unreasonable search and seizures.  But in the immigration context, this is only applied to “egregious” violations of the 4th amendment.  So if an immigration officer knocks on the door and pretends to be a TV repairman, but after you let him in, he reveals he is an ICE agent and rounds up everyone in the house — was that an egregious violation?  If not, it doesn’t matter if he violated your rights, anything he learns from that search is fair game.  Police officers know if they violate a person’s 4th amendment rights they can’t use the evidence against the person they arrest; so they try to comply with the constitution.  ICE officers aren’t bound by those rules that are supposed to hold police officers in check, and you see more abuses of power as a result.  Likewise, the 5th and 14th amendment protections against restraints on liberty are not as robust; and the 6th amendment right to counsel is also very curtailed.  

Many immigration detention sites are actually contracted beds at federal or state prisons.  Here in Eastern Pennsylvania, for example, most detainees are sent to the York County Prison or Pike County Correctional Facility.  There are also privately run immigration detention centers.  The infamous family detention centers are centers designed specifically for immigrant detainees.  If you want to know more about the conditions at these centers, I will be more than happy to put you in touch with the folks at RAICES in Texas or ALDEA in Berks County, PA, who put in blood, sweat and tears every day to help moms and kids detained there and can speak more to the conditions there.  Recently Amnesty International launched a campaign to raise awareness about some kids who have spent more than half their lives in one of these detention centers.

Would you tell us anything you can about your eight-year-old client you mentioned to me earlier? Where did he come from, where are his parents, what crime did he commit. and so on?

My soon-to-be-8 year old client is one of the children being detained at a family detention center.  I cannot get into the details of his specific case without his and his mother’s consent, but to be clear he did not commit any crime.  Again, these detainees are being charged with civil violations under the Immigration and Nationality Act.  If they were being charged with crimes they would be entitled to more due process rights, such as a public defender if they could not afford a private attorney, and a speedy trial.  Kids in family detention are being held with their mothers; they were apprehended near a border or surrendered at the border; most of them are fleeing horrific scenarios in their home countries.  They are held in detention until they can establish they have a right to apply for asylum.  If they prove they have a credible or reasonable fear, they can stay here to apply for asylum.  At that point they may or may not be released from detention as they pursue their claim.  Asylum-seekers have been and continue to be used as pawns to “send a message” to future asylum-seekers and to Congress and constituents about being “tough on illegals.”  

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