Things That Matter

Luis Cortes Is The 31-Year-Old Dreamer Attorney Fighting To Save DACA In The Supreme Court Case

All eyes are on the Supreme Court right now. Thousands of people supporting the undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are at the steps of the highest court in the country, making sure the justices fully understand what is at stake. At the core of the issue is that the Trump Administration wants to do away with the Obama-era program that protects an estimated 700,000 undocumented people from being deported. On June 28, 2019, after months of litigation, the Trump Administration called to end the program went through the court of appeals. The Supreme Court agreed they would hear arguments for keeping DACA and would rule whether to uphold the rights of DACA beneficiaries or end the program altogether. That is where we are right now. The most incredible part about this whole aspect is not just the countless supporters for the DACA program, but the people on the front lines fighting to keep the program alive. 

Two lawyers will be speaking in front of Supreme Court judges in support of DACA, one Theodore Olson, a 79-year-old veteran lawyer, and Luis Cortes, a 31-year-old undocumented Latino lawyer.

Credit: @joshdroner / Twitter

So, while defending this matter is of great importance to the thousands who are protected under DACA and their family friends, this case is also a personal one for Cortes. The Mexican native from the state of Michoacán, who was just a year old when his family came to the U.S., said in an interview with the New Yorker that it’s great to have all the support now. Still, it was a very different case back when former President Obama first launched the program.

“The whole slogan you hear now—’undocumented, unafraid’—is somewhat new,” he said to the publication. “I remember when I was undocumented and very afraid.” He told the New Yorker that he was still in law school and felt pressured over disclosing so much information in order to get protection. 

“I was very incredulous about the whole thing,” Cortes said. “I was, like, They want us to give all of that information about ourselves to the government!”

Soon after Trump Administration began to crack down on undocumented people, even those supposedly protected under DACA, ICE detained one of Cortes’s clients. In early 2017, ICE arrested DACA beneficiary, Daniel Ramirez Medina, because they alleged he had ties to a gang. That matter is still under litigation

This case will be a defining one for Cortes because, on the one hand, he is representing clients to the Supreme Court, which is huge for his career, and on the other hand, the ruling of this case will determine if he will be able to remain in the country.

Credit: @stephberrryy / Twitter

“As a lawyer, I’m very stoked about it,” Cortes told the New Yorker. “I didn’t think I would have a Supreme Court case this early on in my career. But it’s also daunting. I’m going to be looking at the people who get to decide whether my clients are going to get deported, and me along with them.” He told CNN that he would be arguing the case on behalf of nine individuals and also himself. “A lot is at stake for me individually.”

Cortes said that protecting young people with DACA means more than just remaining in the country, but providing the livelihood for entire families. Undocumented people without DACA do not have the ability to get a social security card, which means they cannot obtain legal work. That means it is their children who face the harsh reality of helping those who sacrificed so much for them.

“The United States is an amazing place to live,” he told CNN. “Unlike any other place.”

Thousands of people, including CEOs, politicians, and celebrities, demand that the Supreme Court finally give DACA beneficiaries the proper protection they deserve.

Credit: @capimmigration / Twitter

In October, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a letter to the Supreme Court informing them they had hired 443 DREAMers because they deserved to have those jobs.

“Our country has enjoyed unparalleled success by welcoming people from around the world who seek to make a better life for themselves and their families, no matter their backgrounds,” the company said. “As a group, they tend to display levels of determination and resolve that would be the pride of any business. We could tell you 443 stories to illustrate these attributes.”

READ: Hundreds Of Universities, Cities, And Businesses File Amicus Briefs Urging The Supreme Court To Defend DACA

A Woman Scammed People Out Of $100,000 By Saying She Was A Psychic

Things That Matter

A Woman Scammed People Out Of $100,000 By Saying She Was A Psychic

Scam

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wished for some magical way to boost our cash flow—and earlier this year, several people thought they’d found it. Perlita Afancio-Balles, a 29-year old woman living in Sacramento, claimed that she was “psychic” and promised her clients that if they paid her, she would “bless” them by doubling their money. In total, Afancio-Balles scammed people out of more than $100,000, amounting to a federal felony charge for grand theft and obtaining money by false pretenses.

The scam first came to media attention back in October, when Afancio-Balles fled Sacramento after receiving the initial payment from her victims. Police told Fox40 News that Afancio-Balles had instructed victims to leave their money with her for a few days.

She promised that when they returned for the money, double the original amount would be waiting for them. But when the victims did so, Afancio-Balles was nowhere to be found.

Credit: Sacramento Police Department

Now, after being on the run for almost three months, Afancio-Balles is at the top of the Sacramento Police Department’s “most wanted” list. The Sacramento Police are seeking information about her whereabouts in order to bring justice to the fraud victims.

“Ultimately, most of these victims, or all of these victims, believed the psychic and gave her money. And, eventually, the suspect fled with all the money that was given to her,” said Sacramento Police Officer Karl Chan. “She also targeted the Spanish-speaking community.”

Afancio-Balles, who went by the name “Eva Maria,” lived in the neighborhood of South Natomas, where most of her victims also reside. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30% of South Natomas residents are Latino or Hispanic. Afancio-Balles, as well as most of the people she scammed, belong to this demographic.

While her case is certainly extreme, Afancio-Balles’ story is not unique. Psychic scammers have long been at large in different parts of the world, targeting people who are desperate for financial stability. For con artists, feigning supernatural powers can be an effective way of acquiring very large sums of money very quickly.

Over the past few years, several situations like that of Afancio-Balles came to light, and numerous false psychics ended up behind bars.

Credit: Pinterest

In May of 2018, a clairvoyant known as “Psychic Zoe” was arrested by the New York Police Department for defrauding clients out of more than $800,000. Taking advantage of vulnerable clients in a fragile emotional state, Psychic Zoe—whose real name is Ann Thompson—convinced one woman to buy her a 9.2 carat diamond ring, claiming that if she did not, she would never love again.

Later that same year, Gina Marks was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to committing felony theft against five of her clients. Overall, she stole more than $340,000 after telling her victims that she could cast love spells and “cure them of curses.” Like Afancio-Balles, Marks also went by a different name professionally: her clients knew her as Natalie Miller. And just as Afancio-Balles did, Marks tried to flee after customers started reporting her suspicious activity. Marks was caught by a private investigator at the Miami International Airport, where she was ultimately arrested. Afancio-Balles is currently still at large.

And in fall of this year, Sherry Unwanawich—known to clients as Jacquelin Miller—was sentenced to 40 months in prison for swindling a single victim into paying $1.6 million over the course of several years for protection from a “curse.” The victim was allegedly grieving the death of her mother and struggling with medical school when she was led to believe that her family would be in danger from fake curse if she failed to pay.

Private investigator Bob Nygaard played a significant role in the cases of both Marks and Unwanawich—in fact, Marks was the very first psychic scammer that Nygaard investigated, catapulting his new career in this niche field of detective work. Nygaard is a former New York City police officer who has aided authorities in dozens of con artist cases, specifically in instances of false supernatural claims. In 2015, he estimated that he had recovered over $3 million for 21 victims across those dozen cases. But he says the overall number of defrauded funds in cases like these amounts to much more.

“The amount of money that these people are defrauded of by these self-proclaimed psychics is astronomical,” he said. “We’re talking in the billions of dollars.”

Nygaard says that police departments and district attorney offices don’t often take psychic crime seriously, often dismissing it as a “civil problem.” But as cases like these continue to emerge, the legal landscape is starting to change. In the case of Afancio-Balles, the Sacramento Police Department is remaining vigilant, requesting information from the public that might help locate her. 

The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

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The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

New York Immigration Center

The First Amendment seemed like one law that would go unchallenged in the United States. With bipartisan support and the general consensus that freedom of speech is a tenet of democracy seemed to ensure its safety. However, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of United States v. Sineneng-Smith. 

The judges will decide if pro-immigrant speech that might encourage undocumented immigrants to illegally enter the United States is unlawful. The verdict could have serious consequences not just for migrants but for their advocates as well. 

The Supreme Court has a conservative majority and the current iteration of the Republican party has taken a rather extreme anti-immigrant stance lately, two factors which could heavily affect the outcome of the decision. 

The case concerns an obscure “encouragement provision” of immigration law.

According to Slate, a section in our immigration code forbids the encouragement of an “alien” to reside in the United States if the individual has no legal status. The case made its away to the Supreme Court by way of Evelyn Sineneng-Smith. 

Sineneng-Smith was charged and convicted of fraud by the Trump administration when, as an immigration consultant, she incorrectly told clients they could stay in the U.S. under a program she had already known ended. However, prosecutors also convicted her on the encouragement provision. 

The issue is Sineneng-Smith is being charged for what she said on a very literal basis. The fraud is the obvious wrong-doing, but now the courts will have to decide: are the words themselves? 

What if it is an undocumented person’s best course of action to remain in the U.S. without papers, which may be the case with our esoteric and fluctuating immigration system, on top of the implied moral conundrum.

“An advocate or lawyer now has to worry, given the government’s position in this case, that this language … may trigger criminal liability just for correctly advising a noncitizen,” Manny Vargas, senior counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, told Slate.

Advocates will be forced to second guess the advice they give to clients in fear of facing legal action. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Sineneng-Smith to appeal. 

Although the courts struck down Sineneng-Smith’s fraud appeal, they reversed the encouragement conviction. A three-judge majority believed the provision criminalizes constitutionally protected speech, therefore, violating the First Amendment. 

The judges asserted that the provision, “criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep,” and that it, “potentially criminalizes the simple words—spoken to a son, a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a student, a client—’I encourage you to stay here.’”

However, the Trump administration decided to legally challenge the 9th Circuit sending the case to the Supreme Court who could choose to either accept or reject the case. They chose to accept it. 

The encouragement provision provides “appropriate punishment for defendants who seek enrichment by incentivizing or procuring violations of the immigration laws by aliens who illegally enter or remain in the United States,” the government wrote in a court filing. 

The Trump Administration also suggested the 9th Circuit’s “hypotheticals” are hyperbole and that the provision is an essential law enforcement tool. 

The ACLU stands against the encouragement provision. 

 “Anytime you hear a government lawyer saying ‘trust us’ when our free speech rights are at stake, you should run in the other direction,” ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang said

Wang noted that there cannot be any discourse about immigration if individuals are banned from mentioning the subject on social media. 

“I write an op-ed saying, ‘I disagree with the U.S. immigration laws and I believe that ‘Dreamers’ should stay in the U.S., you belong here,” she said. “I can’t leave it up to good faith in prosecutors not to come after me and try to throw me in federal prison for doing that.” 

Vargas believes that the fact that the Supreme Court has taken on the case, coupled with the Trump administration advocating for the provision itself — is not a good sign. According to Slate, the provision is little known that has existed for years but has rarely been enforced until now. 

The only thing that’s different now is that the current administration has amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric along with increasingly extreme tactics to enforce those sentiments. 

“The fact that the U.S. is looking to get the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s finding … is an indication that the government wants to use this provision,” Vargas told Slate. 

If you’re wondering if the Supreme Court could really ban freedom of speech in a country that regularly bans people from even entering it, that banned couples from getting married, that fairly recently banned one race from using the same water fountains as another race, then you might be asking the wrong questions.