Things That Matter

This Organization Is Offering Undocumented Immigrants Facing Deportation Free Legal Help

Undocumented immigrants facing deportation in some cities will soon have free legal representation through the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network.

Credit: Mikael Owunna / U.S. Customs and Border Protection / Flickr

The program, according to a press release, includes 11 cities offering publicly-funded legal assistance.

SAFE aims to defend immigrants in the U.S. as they navigate the judicial system. Jurisdictions or cities applied to be part of the network through a proposal process. Those chosen were able to demonstrate “their commitment to deportation defense by investing public dollars,” as stated in the press release.

“Immigration is part of our nation’s past, present, and future, and our communities will find more opportunities to grow and thrive when we recognize and embrace this fact,” says Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “That means that all residents must see their justice systems—from our law enforcement to our courts—as delivering on our country’s promise of fairness.”

Turner believes “common sense immigration policies” like the SAFE Cities Network ensure “that all people, regardless of background, income, and history, are guaranteed a fair day in court.”

Using public funding to aid immigrants facing deportation helps build trust, increases public safety and keeps families together, says Turner.

The Vera Institute of Justices, the organization that launched SAFE, created the network after studying the impact of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). NYIFUP started in 2014 and has represented immigrants facing deportation who otherwise didn’t have access to legal resources.

According to the study, Vera found that immigrants that had adequate representation in court had a higher chance of winning their case before an immigration judge. Forty-eight percent of immigrants who had proper representation in court were successful in their cases – an increase of 1,100 percent. It’s a stark contrast to the four percent success rate typical in similar cases.

The SAFE Cities Network includes:

Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, Baltimore, MD, Chicago, IL, Columbus, OH, Dane County in Wisconsin, Oakland/Alameda County in California, Prince George’s County in Maryland, Sacramento, CA, San Antonio, TX and Santa Ana, CA.


READ: Immigration Lawyer Says Daughter Who Recorded Dad Being Detained By ICE Saved Him

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Activist Couple Was Married At The Border Wall Where They First Met Six Years Ago

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Activist Couple Was Married At The Border Wall Where They First Met Six Years Ago

Alexandra Mendoza / Getty Images

With all the uncertainty and traumatic news happening around us, it’s so encouraging to hear stories like this one. And that’s exactly what this couple had in mind when deciding to have their wedding ceremony at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Tijuana – the same spot they met six years ago.

In marrying at the border wall, these two deportees wanted to bring attention to their respective causes (they both head support groups for recent deportees) while giving hope to those who are facing deportation.

Their message for those who face the traumatic experience of deportation is that life goes on and no matter which side of the border you are on, you’ll fine love, be embraced by family, and chase your dreams.

An activist couple celebrated their marriage with a ceremony at the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Yolanda Varona and Héctor Barajas celebrated their love for another this past weekend, in front of the wall that divides San Diego and Tijuana. The same wall that separated them from their loved ones. The same wall where they met.

The couple met six years ago to the date, on the Mexican side of Friendship Park, while defending their respective causes. Varona is an advocate for recently deported mothers while Barajas works to help recently deported veterans.

“Someone told me go to the wall and that I’d find a veteran who was also deported and maybe with him I’d be able to do the activism that I long had wanted to do,” she told the San Diego Union Tribune in an interview.

She added that the veteran kind of intimidated her with his uniform and good looks so she asked him if she could take a picture with him to help break the ice. The pair have been inseparable ever since that ‘date’ in 2014.

Having legally celebrated their marriage back in August, the couple decided to host the ceremony with family and friends at the same spot they first met.

For both, this ceremony was important to send a message of hope to other migrant families.

Credit: Alexandra Mendoza / Getty Images

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribue, Varona, who leads the DREAMers Moms group in Tijuana, said, “It is very symbolic because this wall separated us from our children, but it reminds us that there is life out here too and we can continue fighting from here.”

All too often the story of deportation is one of an ending. However, regardless of how traumatic and difficult the experience is, it’s important to remembre that life goes on. There is a strong community in Mexico formed from those who have been deported – and many different resources to help those readjust to their new lives.

During their special ceremony, the groom couldn’t hide his happiness. “She has always been there for me, and I want to continue to be a better person, and I know good things will come for us,” he said during their ceremony.

The couple were accompanied by friends, including members of their communities: deported mothers and veterans. The ceremony was brief, given that the beaches of Tijuana are open on reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there was no lack of dancing between the couple in front of the sunset.

Their activism work brought them together but they both share similar stories as well.

Varona, who lived with her family in San Diego, was deported more than a decade ago, while Barajas, a former United States Army trooper, was involved in an altercation and after serving a year and a half in prison was repatriated to his native Mexico in 2004.

Determined to return to the U.S, Varona made another attempt at living in the U.S. without documentation but she was subsequently deported again in 2010. Upon being sent back to Tijuana, she founded the support group for deported mothers.

Barajas founded the support group for deported veterans after arriving back in Tijuana. However, in 2018, he was granted a pardon by then Governor of California, Jerry Brown, and he was able to return to the U.S. to complete the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen.

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ICE Admits It Made A Mistake In Deporting This Guatemalan Man So Why Hasn’t He Been Brought Back?

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ICE Admits It Made A Mistake In Deporting This Guatemalan Man So Why Hasn’t He Been Brought Back?

JOHAN ORDONEZ / Getty Images

Although the Coronavirus pandemic poses special risks to migrants who are returned to their countries – as well as the communities they’re put back into – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to deport migrants by the thousands.

There have been several reports of deportees spreading Covid-19 back in their communities after being removed from the U.S., which makes sense considering the U.S. is leading the world in Covid-19 infections.

However, ICE has admitted that they made a mistake with one recent deportation, when they removed a man who was legally awaiting his asylum process.

A Guatemalan man was wrongfully deported and ICE admits it was their mistake.

A 29-year-old Guatemalan man seeking asylum in the U.S. was mistakenly deported by authorities despite the lack of a deportation order – and worse, before he even had his first appointment in immigration court.

César Marroquín was deported August 19 – the same day he he was supposed to appear for the first time before an immigration judge. Instead, he was sent back to Guatemala – with dozens of other deportees – the country from which he fled after being the victim of aggression and kidnapping, according to his account.

“They told me that if I didn’t get on the plane, I’d be charged,” Marroquín told Noticias Telemundo. “There was some mistake with me in the system.”

His current attorney, Marty Rosenbluth, believes it is a flagrant error. “I’ve seen quite a few cases of people who were deported in error. I’ve never seen one quite like this where they were deported even before their first hearing, “ he told NBC News.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, said in a statement that Marroquín’s deportation was due to an “administrative error” while his case was still open.

Despite their mistake, Marroquín remains in Guatemala.

Although the mistake lay completely with U.S. ICE agents, Marroquín remains in his native Guatemala at risk of further persecution.

According to Marroquín’s official complaint filed in Guatemala, he said he suffered political persecution and physical violence after he supported a local politician and turned down a request to work with a rival one. After that, he said he was threatened and his home was damaged and raided; he also suspects someone tampered with his car. Marroquín said he was then kidnapped at gunpoint, tortured for several days and then left on the side of the road. He decided to leave the country after that and sought asylum protections in the United States.

The authorities and Marroquín’s attorney are now working on his readmission to the United States.

“This type of gross negligence is completely inexcusable,” said Rosenbluth, his current attorney. “The law is very, very clear that they can’t deport someone in the middle of their immigration court proceedings. They’re just not allowed to do it.”

Of course, not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time the immigration agency has made a mistake in deportations.

In 2018, ICE made a similar mistake with an undocumented inmate at a New Hampshire jail. ICE agents violated an appeals court order and deported the man back to El Salvador, where he lost 60 pounds and was subject to starvation, beatings, and overcrowding, according to the American Civil Liberties Union-New Hampshire, which represents the man.

“This is a very serious matter to us,” said Scott Grant Stewart, a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general, who appeared before a three-judge panel to explain the error. “We’re sorry for the violation of the court’s order. This was inadvertent. We do acknowledge the error.”

In fact, there are thousands of documented cases of U.S. citizens being deported by ICE.

According to a Northwestern University political scientist, Jacqueline Stevens, more than 1,500 U.S. citizens have spent time in immigration detention or even been deported between 2007 and 2015. More recent examples abound of the U.S. government detaining citizens after falsely accusing them of breaking immigration laws.

ICE authorities reportedly detained for three days Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a veteran born in Grand Rapids, Michigan who served with the Marines in Afghanistan, in 2018 because the agency did not believe he was born here.

ICE also detained for more than three weeks a man named Peter Brown who was born in Philadelphia and lived in the Florida Keys in 2018 because the agency confused him with an undocumented Jamaican immigrant – who was also named Peter Brown.

In 2007, the government settled a lawsuit arising from ICE’s detention of 6-year-old Kebin Reyes. ICE detained the California-born child for 10 hours when it picked up his undocumented father, even though his father immediately handed the authorities Reyes’ U.S. passport to prove the boy’s citizenship. And Justice Department records obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicate that a 10-year-old boy from San Francisco was mistakenly held in immigration detention in Texas for two months, according to his lawyer.

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