All Posts By

Mathew Blaisdell

Immigration policy requires real ideas and hard work, not dumb slogans

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

I get it. We’re all a bit amped up. The makeup, safety, and general welfare of our communities is of extreme importance and generates strong emotions. When it comes to immigration––both its legal aspects and its effects–it is always far more complicated than it should be. It strikes deep nerves that are easily exploited. Immigration is either the defining characteristic and greatest asset to our country, or an existential threat. (Though likely it is a bit of both, depending on your perspective).

And it is awfully difficult to do perform this work to the standards that it  should be when we are under high levels of stress. I frequently, and increasingly, complain that everything is five times harder than it used to be. Providing legal immigration services (and I imagine that our counterparts in government feel similarly) is akin to working at an organization that was massively strained and barely getting by, but that continued to succeed due to highly competent and motivated leaders. Then, overnight, many of the good people are replaced (or not replaced at all) by incompetent hacks and others who actually want the organization to fail. And everything falls apart.

Previously, it seemed as though DHS was focused on enabling foreign nationals to seek the legal immigration benefits to which they were entitled, and the courts and tribunals were focused on providing foreign nationals their fair day in court––at least, given the resources at hand and the other priorities they were tasked with.

Today, it feels like everything is ‘deny and deport.’ (While this analogy is unfair to those good people who have been brought in to government within the last 1.5 years, that is exactly what it feels like.) The denials of applications often arrive after extreme delays, lost files, misunderstandings, and an inability to actually talk to anyone. The ‘deport’ing often in a needlessly cruel and increasingly expeditious manner when applied to immigrants working on legitimate pathways towards obtaining legal status–frequently the parents and spouses of U.S. citizens.

We are getting hammered by things slow and fast–the very drawn out life of a case, with extra work at every step of the way, increasingly punctuated by very real emergencies demanding our focus.

Immigration lawyers don’t generally bill on an hourly basis, but set flat fees at the outset, which means that these delays, responses, and emergencies create a real strain on all of our resources. Meanwhile, our clients and constituents are managing an incredible amount of fear and anxiety––inevitably, some of which is passed along to us. When you are acutely aware of the stakes involved for your clients, when you refuse to compromise below a certain level of quality and professionalism, and when you attempt to maintain any kind of role as advocate outside of your ‘paying job’––it is hard.

You see some of the best and the worst of the legal community in immigration, particularly in moments like these. There will always be individuals who will find a way to exploit anxieties in order to make money (or, in their words, ‘help their clients’) by filing all sorts of things that I wouldn’t touch. But many practice in this very challenging field for good reasons, strive to do things the right way, and probably feel the same daily, burning rage I do whenever someone learns what I do and informs me that I must be on top of the world under this Trump administration and I must be making an absolute killing.

All of which is to say that advocates of all stripes are feeling a fair amount of stress, frustration, anger, and a desire to push back. Complaining about the President is of limited value as a rallying cry. So I’m not shocked that the agency tasked with the most public-facing and harm-inducing duties, U.S. ICE, is now the focus of these energies. And in crowded, competitive, and polarized elections, the slogans are to be expected as well. They mobilize, which is good. They are also easy and emotionally satisfying, which can be problematic.

“Abolish ICE” is one I will never endorse. It is a shortcut around the real ideas and debates that we need to be having, and it harms vulnerable immigrants, their families, their employers, their employees, and the rest of their communities by driving a further wedge between them and the law enforcement agencies that seek to protect them. (And I’ve yet to hear its proponents’ explain the plan for DHS that they would implement the day that ICE is in fact abolished.)

On a surface level, shortcuts are not my thing. My mission is to serve foreign nationals and the communities they live in: specifically, by providing what I call ‘good counsel’ to my clients, by promoting strong standards of legal practice in the field of immigration, and by protecting consumers of legal immigration services from exploitation by lawyers and non-lawyers alike. This mission is patriotic and grounded in respect for laws and human dignity. I do my best to balance my role as an officer of the court with that of advocate. And while I strive to be as effective and efficient as possible (believe, me, I can be quite efficient where there is no ensuing harm), I believe that both my clients and the public at large are ultimately harmed by shortcuts and laziness, whether in terms of developing strategies for cases or in educating and mobilizing the public for needed reforms.

Addressing ‘immigration fraud’ has been at the heart of what I do from the time that I began practicing law. While much of this work has been supported and facilitated by organizations such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association, I’ve been blessed to have been able to work closely with legislators, activists, schools, religious organizations, non-profit and community-based organizations, and government agencies–including U.S. ICE, through their Homeland Security Investigations. HSI focuses on crimes; it is Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) that arrests, detains, and removes (deports) foreign nationals from the U.S. As you may have heard, the animosity generated towards ICE (largely due to the actions taken by ERO) has made it difficult for divisions such as HSI to accomplish its work, which includes investigating and prosecuting cases of ‘immigration fraud’ perpetrated against immigrants. This is important work that I will address in more appropriate length at another time.

What I will say for now is that, having been able to work on this issue independently and from many different angles (including legislation, policy, public education, and enforcement), I believe that, in terms of protecting these communities from crime, the variables that demonstrate the greatest effect are the levels of awareness within the communities and the nature of the relationship between immigrants and the agencies tasked with protecting them. These two variables strongly correlate with each other, and have deteriorated dramatically.

New York City has not been immune to this effect, despite the strong efforts of highly capable stakeholders. Even agencies completely unaffiliated with law enforcement, and even when acting in concert with well known and reputable nonprofit organizations, have seen instances of reporting and complaints tumble due to immigrants’ fears that any identifying information and/or cooperation provided might lead to their detection, detention, and removal by ERO before they have an opportunity to obtain lawful immigration status.

[I will note to those who will respond that these residents have no right to remain in the U.S. that immigration status is a rather fluid concept, that eligibilities for benefits and status can be highly complicated and change with time, and that it is often the case that, only once detained by ICE, does an immigrant become aware of such eligibility. (Yet another topic for another time.) I will also note that, when criminal actors are allowed to operate without impunity, entire communities are harmed–not merely the foreign nationals themselves.]

I strongly believe that only via a holistic approach, grounded in collaboration with the various stakeholders described above, can these most vulnerable communities be effectively protected against fraud and other crimes. (One example of such can be found here.) It is very difficult work requiring great investments in time and energy over long periods of time, but it works. No method has yet facilitated the flow of quality information and the pursuit of effective, coordinated action over time than the development and maintenance of relationships. And established relationships don’t require tax dollars or donations or anything terribly elaborate to initiate an action–just a phone call.

BUT, should a locality be looking for example of how to effectively put resources into this issue, the New York State District Attorneys League of Immigrant Affairs (DALIA) is an example of numerous counties cooperating to protect their residents from crime. Additionally, the New Americans Hotline, provided by the New York State Office New Americans and operated by Catholic Charities, acts as a sort of clearinghouse for complaints by providing a toll free, confidential and anonymous resource (offering assistance in over 200 languages). It is able to effectively develop and, where appropriate, refer complaints to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, while maintaining data that is helpful for both enforcement and policy purposes.

I might also suggest the old-fashioned approach of developing, promoting, and advancing legislation to protect communities in areas where states and localities have the ability to do so. The New Americans Hotline was the product of the Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act (IASEA), which facilitated a similar law in New York City. However, as effective as these agencies have been, the fear associated with ICE has made it significantly more difficult to receive and act upon the complaints that they need in order to protect their communities.

There are better ways to channel our frustrations and protect our communities. We can and should say that our immigration enforcement priorities should have remained focused on the real “bad hombres” and not on tearing communities and families apart by pursuing those with little or no criminal history. We can and should talk about cultural and training problems within ERO. But we must not isolate our most important partners for the sake of an easy (and occasionally self-serving) slogan.

I ask that you please listen to the episode of This American Life, “ICE Capades“, and specifically the segment “The Iceman Cometh” for an example of why maintaining these relationships are absolutely crucial.

And I ask that we make a genuine effort to educate ourselves on these issues before we allow our passions (or self-interest) to expose our ignorance and effect more hurt more than help. We cannot improve this system and protect our communities––U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike––without a real attempt to understand what the pieces are, how they work, and the people involved. We only heighten the risks of danger to those most vulnerable when we attack an entire institution that plays a necessary role in protecting them, that is necessary to any functioning immigration system, and that inevitably becomes associated with all forms of law enforcement. We can do better, and we must.

“Representing Children in Immigration Court” CLE is live

By | Counselor

My CLE with Claire Thomas of Safe Passage is live here, in which Claire and I help explain who unaccompanied minors are and the reasons for their migration to the U.S.,the immigration options that may be available for them, and the roles that attorneys can play in the process. As noted before, those interested in finding further resources on the topic or in donating their time may do so by contacting Safe Passage.

Ethics training, April 18th, New York Law School (presented by NY AILA)

By | Counselor

Following my afternoon training with Claire Thomas on Representing Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Court, I will be co-moderating the three-hour ethics training for the NY Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Rebecca Sosa will be moderating a panel on issues facing new attorneys, Victoria Neilson will be leading the panel on current issues in asylum, and I’ll be focusing on disciplinary issues.

We’ve put together an all-star lineup, with Linda Kenepaske, Cyrus Mehta, Deborah Klahr (Supervisory Asylum Officer at the Newark Asylum Office),  Prof. Dan Smulian, Jun Hwa Lee (Principal Staff Attorney at the Departmental Disciplinary Committee, First Judicial Department), Raluca Oncioiu (Director of the Immigration Legal Services Department of Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of NY and of the New Americans Hotline, and Sherry K. Cohen (former First Deputy Chief Counsel of the Departmental Disciplinary Committee).

The packed agenda will include:

  • navigating common ethical pitfalls for new attorneys;
  • best practices in setting up ethical practices for solo attorneys and small practices;
  • ethical implications of filing certain applications to pursue relief in Immigration Court;
  • ethical issues involved in representing minors, including dual representation of their parents;
  • ethical duties to correct misrepresentations;
  • ethical issues raised by prolonged  backlogs at the Asylum Office and Immigration Courts;
  • common complaints against attorneys and measures that attorneys can take to avoid complaints; and
  • non attorney partnerships, supervision of employees, and other scenarios involving the unauthorized practice of law.

There will also be plenty of hypos and time for audience questions.

Attendance is free for NY AILA members and $75 for nonmembers, with reduced fees for instances of financial hardship.

Navigating the U.S. Immigration System for Immigrant Youth: September 29th

By | Counselor

Building off of my April 18th CLE with Claire Thomas on Representing Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Court, Rebecca McBride and I will be providing a training for attorneys on special issues to be aware of when working with immigrant youth on September 29th at Lawline. We’ll be discussing the various legal definitions of a “child”, special protections under U.S. immigration law for youth, recent efforts to expand protections for immigrant youth, barriers to effective representation, and we’ll be taking your questions. And for attorneys interested in finding resources on the topic or in donating your time, please visit Atlas DIY to learn more.

Launch of the Protecting Immigrant New Yorkers Task Force

By | Advocate

Today, the Protecting Immigrant New Yorkers Task Force released its Resource Guide for Law Enforcement, Government & Advocates to Address Immigration Services Fraud. The Guide,  a comprehensive initiative to combat immigration services fraud, has been a long time in the making, and I’m very proud to have served as co-editor. While focusing on New York State, it is intended to serve as a tool for use by law enforcement and governmental agencies, as well as community based organizations across the country. Rather than say more, please view the resource guide here, and read about the Task Force here.

ICE raids: 10 myths and suggestions

By | Counselor

Legal service providers (myself included), community based organizations, elected officials and law enforcement agencies are being inundated by phone calls by people terrified by the rumors and false stories being circulated by friends, family, scammers, and news media. To combat the misinformation I’ve compiled a list of 10 myths and suggestions to help people sift through the misinformation and to learn how to cope with situations in which they or their loved ones actually do find themselves in an encounter with ICE. Here we go:

  1. There are no confirmed raids occurring in New York State (or New Jersey, or the northeast generally).
  1. This is not to say that NO enforcement is being taken in New York—just that only STANDARD enforcement operations seem to be taking in New York at the moment.
  1. A telltale sign of a false rumor is the description of ICE vehicles. ICE does not generally use trucks or marked cars, except for those to transport detainees to court appearances and other places.  The marked vehicles generally used by the Department of Homeland Security belong to the Federal Protective Service, which protects buildings, or CBP, which focuses on ports or entry (airports and the border), but NOT on interior enforcement. Arrests are usually conducted by individual ICE officers in unmarked cars.
  1. Another sign of a false story are the focus on “ICE raids.” ICE does not generally carry out “raids”. Current enforcement priorities do not focus on picking up as many people as possible; in fact, they are the opposite. The three enforcement priorities for ICE all focus on targeting individuals considered to be ‘fugitives’ or otherwise threats to public safety. It is possible that, during an enforcement action, a family members or other co-habitant of a targeted individual may be arrested as well, but only incidentally.
  1. Stories involving enforcement at schools or churches are very likely false. ICE policy generally prevents agents from arrest, questioning, or searching people in “sensitive locations” such as schools, churches, hospitals, funerals, weddings, public religious ceremonies, and public demonstrations—unless there is a threat involving national security, imminent harm, or terrorism.
  1. ICE is not picking targeting individuals simply because they are undocumented or out of status. The three ICE priorities focus on: individuals who are a threat to national security; people who were initially apprehended while trying to enter the U.S.; gang members; people convicted of felonies, other serious crimes, or multiple misdemeanors; people who have unlawfully entered the U.S. since 2014; people who have removal (deportation orders) since 2014; and people who have significantly abused the visa waiver program.
  1. For those interested in knowing what their rights when interacting with ICE, there are many good materials in circulation, including: the Immigrant Defense Project’s “Know Your Rights with ICE” (English and Spanish); the New York Civil Liberties Union’s “What to Do if You’re Stopped by Immigration Offices” (English and Spanish); the National Immigration Law Center’s “Immigration Raids Alert” (English and Spanish); United We DREAM’s Deportation Defense Card and Know Your Rights Resources (English and Spanish); and Atlas DIY’s Know Your Rights” one-pager in English, Spanish, and Mandarin.
  1. Often the best preparation may be to consult with a TRUSTED lawyer in order to find out what immigration benefits that you are and are not eligible for, and what to do in the event you are detained.
  1. If someone you know is detained, call the hotline operated by the Office for New Americans and Catholic Charities for a referral to free legal service providers at 1-800-566-763
  1. Don’t pay attention to the news; just remember 1-9.

New Law Protecting And Empowering Immigrants Goes Into Effect Throughout New York State Today

By | Advocate

Over a year and-a-half ago a handful of us gave a presentation at the New York Immigration Coalition to start the conversation that, after a great deal of effort by many people, resulted in the law that goes into effect today. Og dette er i hovedtrekk blackjackreglene Blackjack spill. The Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act: makes the Office for New Americans a permanent state agency; builds capacity for the New Americans hotline for reporting immigration fraud; clarifies that notarios cannot advise someone on what their immigration status is and how to answer questions on forms; adds to new sections to the penal law for immigration fraud, including a class E felony with substantial penal and civil fines; creates a private right of action so that immigrants can themselves take the scammers to court, among many other new provisions.

We didn’t get everything we wanted, and we’ll continue to fight for better protections, but today, we can take a victory lap.

Today’s Bad Immigration Reporting

By | Updates

Courtesy of Vox (which I noticed because I often read it):

Contrary to a popular opinion, reflected here, neither deferred action, eligibility, nor even a grant of deferred action, takes someone ‘off-limits’ for enforcement.

Firstly, USCIS can still deny someone’s application in discretion. Meeting the guidelines does not mean that you are entitled to protection: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) retains the ultimate discretion to determine whether deferred action is appropriate in any given case even if the guidelines are met.”

The agencies conducting immigration enforcement, ICE & CBP, are sub-agencies of DHS. If they will be directed to screen individuals for eligibility and inform them of their potential eligibility, they are merely carrying out basic enforcement duties–just the as a police department in an overwhelmed district could instruct its officers to look at who is in jail, determine who is there for just minor violations, and let them know if they have any particular options.

I haven’t seen these memos, but the AP article cited by Vox merely states that ICE should try to identify who they “might be able to release”–which looks like it might mean “try to figure out who might fit in this low priority for detention”, which is far from an order to release everyone who might appear to be eligible. Indeed, even if ICE will be directed to release them from detention (to free up resources for other enforcement actions), they still retain the ability to pursue detention & removal against these same individuals. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes they will see that a person may be eligible, and yet they will pursue enforcement against the person. That person can pursue a request for deferred action, though they are not entitled to it, even if eligible.

Further, even a grant of deferred action is only a snapshot of a decision at a particular moment–‘we are not seeking your removal at this particular instant.’ It is not a guaranteed, get-out-jail-free card. Someone granted deferred action may later be pursued for enforcement, and this does happen when, say, someone who has been granted deferred action later gets arrested.

Saying “DHS doesn’t want ICE to prosecute immigrants who qualify” is a poor way of stating what actually happens; DHS has set out clear enforcement priorities, without taking away the ability of agents to prosecute anyone in any category. It does not “run afoul” of any “standard” Lynch set. (Of course, it is also a stretch to imply that Lynch articulated a new ‘standard, which was just articulating the basic function of an enforcement agency.)

All of that is perfectly consistent with the OLC memos, which is pretty much the only venue in which DOJ even comes into play, save for lawsuits challenging policies or specific enforcement actions. So they are very much “on the same page” –despite what today’s example in bad immigration reporting may tell you.