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August 26, 2014

Lawsuit claims officials violated undocumented immigrants’ rights

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Lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that immigration officials in New Mexico sped up deportations for undocumented people, denying them time to find a lawyer and violating their right to due process.

Laura Lichter, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, compared the situation at the Artesia detention center to the government’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, which left thousands of people stranded in flooded New Orleans, and many more homeless weeks after the disaster.

“I run out of words to describe how frustrating, maddening, Kafkaesque, unfair, irrational some of the procedures have been that we have seen,” said Lichter, who works pro bono at her own expense to represent the undocumented families.

There are about 600 mothers and children, mainly from Central America, at the Artesia detention center. Lawyers say that immigration officials spread misinformation and created legal difficulties to prevent the women and children from having a fair hearing.

Officials gave detainees a list of suggested free legal services, but none of them could directly represent them in court, Lichter said.

After crossing the border, an undocumented immigrant can qualify for asylum if they prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on one of five criteria: religion, race, nationality, politics, or social group.

But it is difficult for the women to construct a case because there is no child care during counseling sessions with lawyers or interviews with asylum officers. Mothers typically do not want to address their fears or repeat threats that they have received in front of their children, Lichter said.

Lawyers who are volunteering at the detention center also realized that detainees did not know their rights, such as the right to time to seek an attorney. Informing people of their rights helps them seek a fair hearing, Lichter said.


Warm up questions
  1. Moving is hard, and moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language is really hard. Why do you think so many people leave their homeland to come to the United States?
  2. What do you know about the legal process of immigration to the United States?
  3. Look at the southern border of the United States.  Which states are on the border?  How might being on the border make them different than states that are not touching a border with another country?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What specific challenges are mothers seeking asylum facing? How would you solve those problems? Explain your answer.
  2. The story explains that individuals may qualify for asylum if they can prove that they are being persecuted based on their religion, race, nationality, politics, or social group.  Imagine that you are an immigrant seeking asylum, how would you prove that you were being persecuted in your own country? What challenges might someone face when attempting to gain asylum?
  3. The lawyers who are suing the U.S. government claim immigration officials violated the rights of detainees in Artesia, New Mexico by speeding up deportations, giving them no time to find a lawyer to present their case and violating their right to due process. Do people who are not legal citizens of the United States deserve due process? Explain your answer.
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