U of M Center for New Americans defends asylum seekers targeted by federal immigration raids

January 12, 2016

A legal team from the University of Minnesota Law School’s Center for New Americans (CNA) won stays of removal for women and children who were swept up in surprise deportation raids conducted last week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The team’s efforts were instrumental in preventing the deportation of 12 families to countries where they faced immediate harm.

The team included law students and staff from the CNA along with attorneys from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Minneapolis-based law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. Team members were volunteering with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project at a major immigration detention center at Dilley, Texas, assisting newly arrived women and children fleeing violence in Central America, when ICE raids were launched around the country. One hundred and twenty-one people, mostly families with children, were arrested and transported to the Dilley detention center. As government officials moved to quickly deport the families, the CNA team was at the forefront of efforts to prepare last-minute appeals and emergency stays of removal in an unprecedented, high-stakes environment.

Mary Georgevich (’18) was one of the law students who worked with those who were caught up in the raids. “It’s amazing to be part of this team,” she said. “In several cases, mothers and children were pulled off deportation planes that were about to take off.”

“Many of the families targeted for deportation reported that they never had any chance to present their asylum cases before an immigration judge. The deportation effort was swift and inflexible nonetheless,” said John Bruning (’17), another of the student team members. “Many of these women and children have been the victims of three injustices—they were persecuted in their home countries, they never had a fair asylum process in our immigration courts, and then they were arrested by ICE in really shocking ways.”

The ICE raids provoked a nationwide outcry against the federal government’s controversial policies toward Central American women and children whom advocates believe are being treated unfairly. “These raids are yet another indication that our government refuses to see these women and their young children as what they are: refugees fleeing unspeakable gang-related or gender-based violence who risk everything for the opportunity to seek refuge in the United States,” said student team member Nadia Anguiano-Wehde (’17). “Instead of welcoming them and treating them humanely, we hunt them down and lock them up, often re-traumatizing them.” Among the highly criticized tactics the government has used against Central American asylum seekers is routine detention of families with young children, despite a federal court decision that described deplorable conditions at ICE detention centers and ordered the practice to end.

In addition to Georgevich, Bruning, and Anguiano-Wehde, the student team included Andrea Crumrine (’16) and Alexandra De Leon (’16); it was supervised by Rebecca Scholtz, a staff attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and an adjunct professor at the CNA, and CNA teaching fellow Katherine Evans. Team attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels included Dianne Heins, the firm’s pro bono counsel, as well as Lariss Maldonado and Sari Long.

National media—including the New York Times, in an article and editorial, and the Washington Post—covered the ICE raids and the team’s successful efforts to save many families from removal.

“We simply could not have done it without the CNA team’s hard work and dedication,” said Kathryn E. Shepherd, managing attorney of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project.

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