Analyzing the Recent Senate Bill on Immigration

Photo courtesy of yashmori, Flickr Creative Commons

Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) recently published a three-part blog series analyzing various aspects of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744), which passed in the Senate last month. The bill balances a pathway to citizenship with strict border security provisions, and attempts to improve the process through which refugees fearing persecution in their home countries may apply for asylum in the United States. Read on for more about how the bill affects the asylum process, pathways to citizenship, and border security.

Part I: How S.744 Affects the Asylum Process
The Senate bill makes significant changes to the asylum application process. Of these changes, one of the most impactful is the elimination of the one-year filing deadline. Currently, asylum seekers must apply for asylum within one year after entering the United States. By removing the deadline, the bill extends protection to refugees that fail to speak out within their first year in the U.S. due to trauma or unfamiliarity with the immigration laws.

Part II: Pathways to Citizenship
A core element of S.744, and perhaps its most controversial, is the establishment of pathways to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants that currently reside in the United States. However, far from granting “amnesty,” the bill mandates a legalization process that is in fact selective, expensive, and extremely time consuming. This post analyzes the various pathways to citizenship provided by the bill, and the difficulties that could potentially arise along each path.

Path III: Border Security “Triggers”
The pathways to citizenship that the bill provides are predicated upon the attainment of strict enforcement goals along the Southwest border. These preconditions, called “triggers,” were further strengthened by the Hoeven-Corker Amendment that was added to the bill. The final part of the blog series takes a deeper look into S.744′s border security provisions, and predicts their impact.

HLAB’s Melissa Minaya in the Harvard Gazette

Melissa Minaya and her strawberries (Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer via Harvard Gazette)

Each summer, the Harvard community is treated to a lovely farmers’ market featuring a wide range of local produce and products. In fact, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s very own Melissa Minaya was recently snapped buying strawberries by the Harvard Gazette. Find out what she’s planning to do with her farm-fresh strawberries (see slide 3) and enjoy other market highlights in the online slideshow. Or just stop by the market every Tuesday through the end of October!

A Disciplinary Hearing for a Transgender Prisoner

Fan Li (2nd from left) with members of the PLAP summer team

By Fan Li, Student Attorney

At the end of the Spring Semester, just before the exam period, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) intern Tori Porell and I were contacted by PLAPpers Jeanne Segil and Avery Halfon about a transgender prisoner who was facing a “tool to escape” charge. The client was intelligent, soft-spoken, and had quite a sense of humor. She was placed in the Special Management Unit after a Correctional Officer found several contraband items in her cell. The officer charged her with a Category 2-1 (possession of items likely to be used in an escape), among several other offenses.

As the client explained, the contraband items were either related to her female gender presentation or were items that she had retrained for many years through multiple prison transfers. A guilty finding on the Category 2-1 charge would cause her to be transferred to a maximum security facility, where little accommodation is available for transgender prisoners and her safety would be at immense risk. Avery filed a discovery request immediately, along with a motion to dismiss the heaviest charges.

A series of delays, however, pushed the hearing date into the summer, when neither Avery nor Jeanne would be in Boston. So they passed their notes to me, and Tori and I visited our client in early June. A week later, we represented her at the disciplinary hearing. We provided details about the client’s limited mobility and explained each item in evidence. Then, the Hearing Officer kindly dismissed all but the lightest charges.

Our client has called twice since then and thanked each one of us. But, as often is the case, even our sigh of relief contained a lament. Despite the recent advances the Prisoners’ Legal Services has made in transgender prisoners’ rights, any officer who wishes to charge a transgender prisoner with a Category 2-1 offense can easily find the opportunity to do so. The Code of Massachusetts Regulations leaves much ambiguity regarding this charge, and the punishment too frequently reaches beyond what justice warrants.

Note: A version of this post originally appeared in the PLAP newsletter.

Praise for Shareholder Rights Project

Via The New York Times:

Shareholder efforts that actually succeed in changing dubious corporate governance policies are so rare that when they happen, it makes you sit up and take notice. So it’s worth examining the results achieved so far this year by the Shareholder Rights Project, a program operating at the Harvard Law School. And with any luck, its success might shame do-nothing investment managers, like those running many mutual funds, into action.

To learn more about the Shareholder Rights Project at HLS, visit their website.

Q&A with Immigration Clinic’s Phil Torrey

Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey

We recently sat down with Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey to discuss the intersection of criminal law and immigration, the new course he is teaching this fall, and how he became interested in immigration law. (Please note that responses have been edited for length.)

What is “crimmigration” and what will students learn in the new course and clinical placement?
Crimmigration is the intersection of criminal law and immigration. It can refer to the immigration consequences of criminal activity but it also encompasses the general criminalization of immigration status. Because it’s so difficult to obtain immigration protection for non-citizens who have been accused of engaging in criminal activity, this group is often the most in need of help.

The clinical seminar will include discussion of doctrinal topics as well as policy issues. Students in the clinic will be divided into teams and complete at least one crimmigration-related project. The goal of the course and clinical work is to give students the tools necessary to spot and evaluate the immigration consequences of criminal activity.

How did you become interested in the topic of crimmigration?
When I was volunteering at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), I worked with clients who had criminal convictions in their past. These cases were extremely challenging, but incredibly important as many of the clients had been advised by their criminal defense attorneys to plead guilty to avoid jail time without understanding the effect that had on their immigration status. I quickly became interested in learning more about the complex area of criminal law and immigration law. The issue has been growing in importance on a national level since 2010, when the Supreme Court decided that defense attorneys must advise clients about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a crime (Padilla v. Kentucky). Clinic Director Debbie Anker was a big proponent of doing more crimmigration work at HIRC and I was excited to help develop the new course and clinic with her.

What other immigration issues do you work on?
I’m the supervising attorney for the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), a student practice organization affiliated with our clinic. Among other projects and activities, HIP students represent clients in immigration detention at their bond hearings. Most of our clients in the bond hearing project have some type of criminal activity in their past, so HIP’s work complements the crimmigraton clinic nicely.

Other projects that HIP students are working on include helping refugees navigate the application process for securing green cards. They also handle family reunification petitions when someone is granted asylum and looking to bring their family to the United States. In fact, most of the petitioners are former clients of HIRC.

How did you find yourself at HLS?
I took a circuitous route. In law school, I took an immigration and asylum clinic, which I really enjoyed. After law school, while working at a large corporate firm, I took advantage of their leave policy to work as a fellow at GBLS, and I became familiar with the HIRC team. During this time, I became attached to my clients and to the work but I had to return to my firm after my fellowship ended. After staying at the firm for about another nine months, saving money, and getting the blessing of my very supportive partner, I quit and returned to GBLS as a volunteer. Eventually, I applied for this position at HIRC when it opened up and the rest is history.

Tom Koglman Goes from Police Officer to PLAP Student Attorney

PLAP student attorney Tom Koglman

Each summer, the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) hires several full-time legal interns. Tom Koglman writes about why he chose to work at PLAP this summer.

“I was a police officer for almost twelve years before I came to Harvard Law School, so some people were surprised that I would want to spend my 1L summer representing prison inmates. I believe that the two roles are complementary, though. As a police officer, I was sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, and as a student attorney with PLAP, I am defending the constitutionally granted rights of inmates. If the goal is justice and equality for all under the law, then I don’t see a contradiction. I’ve been inside plenty of jails and prisons before, but stepping in through the front door and meeting with an inmate as an ally is a completely new experience. I joined PLAP so that I could add more depth to my understanding of the criminal justice system, view it from a different perspective, and have an opportunity to challenge my preconceptions. Working with PLAP will make me a better advocate for my clients, provide a service to people who desperately need help, and give me a more balanced understanding of the law.”

Note: This post was adapted from the PLAP newsletter.