The Facts Behind the Headlines: Family Separation

Upon arrival at the border, Pedro, an 8-year-old indigenous Guatemalan child, witnessed several immigration officers throwing his father to the ground and assaulting him. When Pedro screamed at the officers to stop, he was ripped away from his father without explanation. Pedro cries when recalling the incident and still has no idea where his father is. His AI Justice attorney has searched for the father on the detainee locator but has been unable to find him.

- Account in AI Justice's report Building the Wall: A New War on Immigrants

AI Justice has a long history of providing free legal services to unaccompanied minors. Over the past week, two issues relating to the treatment of children taken into U.S. custody at the Southwest border have circulated widely in the media. One relates to reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has "lost" about 1,500 unaccompanied minors who were released from custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the second references recent efforts by the United States government to separate parents from their children at the border. Immigration issues tend to be complex and the following sets forth basic facts regarding recent developments affecting immigrant children arriving at our border.

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Cuffs Too Tight: The Shackling and Evacuation of Detained Immigrants during Hurricane Irma

Dec. 5, 2017

By: Lily Hartmann, AI Justice Jonathan Demme Human Rights Advocate

Masiel, a Costa Rican native and victim of gender-based violence, is waiting out her remaining time in the United States at the Broward Transitional Center (BTC), an immigration detention center in South Florida. She’s agreed to voluntary departure, but her deportation flight won’t be her first experience with ICE Air. As a matter of fact, she and several other women at BTC call themselves the “Texas Survivors” - and for good reason.

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, all detainees were told late one September evening they were going to be evacuated – but they weren’t told to where. Each detainee was shackled and handcuffed, their hands chained to a belt at their waists. People’s arms ached in discomfort after spending hours in handcuffs. Masiel told me, “The handcuffs and shackles were put on so tight they left us with marks. I and many other women had swollen ankles after wearing shackles for many days. We were treated as if we were criminals.” Pregnant and elderly women were subjected to this treatment, too.

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A Day in Immigration Court

October 27, 2017

By: Lily Hartmann, AI Justice Jonathan Demme Human Rights Advocate

I came to AI Justice in early September from Providence, RI, where I worked with refugee community leaders and other stakeholders to support refugee families who had already been given the right to protection here while in their home countries or refugee camps. But the situation for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers in the U.S. is much different; they must fight for legal protection within a system built out of draconian immigration laws. Although I have learned a lot about the immigration system in my time at AI Justice, my visit to Miami Immigration Court last week revealed the true nature of the uphill battle unaccompanied minors face in our legal system. 

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Reflection on “Building the Wall” and Discussion between Cheryl Little and the Playwright

October 6, 2017

By: Lily Hartmann, AI Justice Jonathan Demme Human Rights Advocate

“Who would want to come to the U.S. now?” asks Rick, a convicted former private prison manager, in his final line of playwright Robert Schenkkan’s BUILDING THE WALL. The play tells the story of an overcrowded Texas immigration detention center where a private prison company prioritizes its profits over immigrant lives. Schenkkan’s work is both a realistic depiction and a dystopic vision of the state of immigration enforcement. As Rick paints a picture of the horrid, man-made deportation machine, audience members are left to wonder which pieces of his story reflect our current reality and which imagine a tragedy years into the Trump presidency.

In a talk back that followed the play’s Miami premiere, Schenkkan said he was struck by the media’s efforts to normalize Trump’s violent rhetoric towards women and black and brown immigrant communities during the 2016 presidential election. “We had crossed the line,” the playwright reflected. As an artist, Schenkkan believes he has a responsibility to respond, to encourage truth telling and compassion, and to shed light on the stark realities of immigration today. From this sense of concern, BUILDING THE WALL emerged as a work in motion, responding to the Trump administration as it unfolds.

As the play centers on the inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention, it sends the message that the idea of Trump’s Border Wall is largely metaphorical. The ‘wall’ is really the collection of prisons, ICE agents, deportation orders, and other forms of violence against immigrants that will deter and prevent new immigrants from entering the country. It is a force that will only grow with new anti-immigration laws and attacks on the undocumented community.

Immigration advocates, lawyers, and service providers, including AI Justice’s own staff, will find this play eerily haunting and at times traumatic as it reflects on the ways the immigration enforcement system dehumanizes the undocumented. But for audience members with little knowledge of current immigration issues, BUILDING THE WALL is jarring and alarming. It begins to pull back the curtain on a deportation system largely hidden from the public eye. AI Justice’s Executive Director, Cheryl Little, commented, “The audience every evening should be full...these are things you think couldn’t happen in the U.S.” Little then shared stories about undocumented students living in fear and ICE’s neglect of immigrant detainees’ health that has resulted in life-threatening situations.

The issues of immigration enforcement discussed in this play touch upon the fears and daily challenges faced by Americans for Immigrant Justice’s clients. And so, today, October 6, AI Justice hosts a panel after the performance of BUILDING THE WALL with DREAMers directly impacted by Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. We look forward to the opportunity to share with our Miami community this powerful play as well as our own reflections on the current challenges faced by immigrants in South Florida.



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AI Justice in the Community

Newsletter  |  Fall 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 3

AI Justice is working closely with Catholic Charities Legal Services, AILA, CABA, FIU and UM to train attorneys willing to offer pro bono services to unaccompanied minors from Central America whose court cases have been “fast tracked.”  Three trainings for attorneys in private practice were conducted in the past few months which will expand the availability of free legal services to vulnerable unaccompanied children facing removal.

AI Justice would like to thank Jones Day, Greenberg Traurig and White and Case for hosting these trainings.

On Friday, October 24, attorneys from the LUCHA team traveled to Naples, FL at the invitation of Project Help, a rape crisis center. Staff trained several victim advocates and the Collier County State Attorneys office on the particular needs of immigrant survivors as well as potential protections.



Spotlight on LUCHA

Newsletter  |  Fall 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 3

Did you know that an abuser can use their partner’s immigration status as a tool to exert further power and control in a violent relationship?  Abusers may fail to file papers on their spouses’ behalf that would allow them to obtain legal status so that they can continue to abuse them.   Abusers dominate and manipulate every aspect of a victim’s life to ensure that the victim feels dependent on them. They threaten deportation in addition to other threats continually made.  Many victims fear reporting crimes and seeking help because they worry it could lead to deportation.  If they have children, they are legitimately concerned about being forcibly separated from them.  Language barriers and isolation from family and friends leave victims with no idea of where to turn for help.  They are unable to work because they lack legal immigration status and fear being homeless or unable to feed their children should they dare attempt to escape.

AI Justice’s LUCHA Program works on behalf of immigrant survivors and empowers them by giving them the tools to become independent and self-sustaining members of their families and their community. Once they apply to legalize their status, they can get a work permit, Social Security card and Florida driver's license.  AI Justice’s legal representation is especially critical as immigrants work to gain safety and independence. The majority of LUCHA clients are referred to us by local shelters and law enforcement officer.


USCRI Expands Legal Services for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

Newsletter  |  Fall 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 3
The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has awarded AI Justice a million dollar one year grant to expand direct legal representation services for Central American unaccompanied minor children after their release from government custody. This is part of a pilot program that targets children’s cases in eight immigration courts across the country including: Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Memphis, Baltimore, Arlington and Miami.  

AI Justice will represent children living in the South Florida area, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, Lee, Collier and Monroe counties.
Drawing made by a child while in government custody

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About Us:

AI Justice is an award-winning non-profit law and advocacy firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, we champion the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocate for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serve as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speak for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.