A Family Will Remain United

Michelle Mendez is a 2008 Fellow sponsored by DLA Piper LLP. She was hosted by Catholic Charities of Washington Immigration Legal Services. Michelle currently serves as the director of the Defending Vulnerable Populations unit at Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Photo of Michelle Mendez

On May 2, 2009, a Frederick County Sheriff’s Deputy in Maryland pulled over a mother for practicing driving in the parking lot of a church where her husband was teaching youth bible study. The officer was much more interested in her immigration status than the traffic violation. The mother was arrested for a minor traffic violation—which was later dismissed—and then directly handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

During Michelle Mendez’s first year as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, she received a call about the mother. She immediately knew she had to take on her case. Michelle’s Fellowship focused on providing representation to immigrants in removal proceedings on account of civil rights violations by local police and ICE agents.

“Equal Justice Works provided me with an inroad to a wonderful non-profit host organization, training opportunities, including a National Institute of Trial Advocacy training, a network of contacts, and prestige,” said Michelle.

She worked on the case throughout her entire two-year Fellowship. Following her Fellowship, she continued to advocate for the mother while working as a staff attorney at Catholic Charities of Washington Immigration Legal Services. She fought through multiple denials and appeals to keep her client in the United States with her family.

Her hard work led to the case being reopened in light of new evidence that her client’s daughter was exhibiting emotional issues—including a crippling fear of police officers after seeing her mother handcuffed and taken from her in a police vehicle—and learning disabilities at school. Unfortunately, the arguments were set to go before the Baltimore Immigration Court on November 2019—almost ten years after the mother’s initial arrest.

Since starting on the case, Michelle has become the director of the Defending Vulnerable Populations Program at Catholic Legal Immigration Network. When the court date neared, her busy schedule and heavy workload prevented her from giving this case the time and attention it needed and deserved. With a heavy heart, she asked Professor Maureen Sweeney of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law Immigration Clinic if she could take over the case. As a former student in the clinic, she knew the clinic would be the best legal representative for this case and this family who had endured so much.

Over a decade later, Professor Maureen Sweeney and the University of Maryland Carey School of Law Immigration Clinic were able to go before the Baltimore Immigration Court.

“When I learned that Professor Sweeney and her students won the case, I felt a huge sense of relief. I felt like I had been holding part of my breath for over 10 years and could finally breathe normally. Images went through my mind of the family celebrating milestones together, of the parents attending their children’s high school graduation, just as every family should,” said Michelle.

To learn more about Michelle and her Fellowship project, click here.

I felt like I had been holding part of my breath for over 10 years and could finally breathe normally...just as every family should.

Michelle Mendez /
2008 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two major opinions this week in Bostock v. Clayton County and Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. The Court ruled that LGBTQ+ people cannot be fired because of their sexual orientation or because they are transgender, and the Court overturned the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“These landmark decisions advance our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. Equal Justice Works will continue our ongoing effort to mobilize passionate public service leaders to advocate on behalf of those whose identity and contributions are wrongly devalued or discriminated against in our country.”

– David Stern, Equal Justice Works Executive Director

This is a guest post by Qudsiya Naqui, Senior Program Manager, and Lauren Worsek, Portfolio Manager at Equal Justice Works.

In 2012, President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an executive action that would offer temporary protection from deportation for the estimated 1.1 million undocumented young people who came to the United States as children. As other administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have done in the past, the Obama administration chose to exercise prosecutorial discretion to protect young people who, in all respects other than their immigration status, are Americans and have known no other home. Recently, the Trump administration announced that the program will be phased out in six months, which could result in DACA recipients facing deportation in the future.

The DACA program has had a broad-ranging impact for not only those 800,000 undocumented individuals who have emerged from the shadows under its protection, but for American society as a whole. According to a 2017 national survey conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Diego, United We Dream, the National Immigrant Law Center, and the Center for American Progress, DACA recipients have made significant contributions to the economy while furthering their own progress. For example, access to work authorization through DACA has allowed recipients to obtain employment commensurate with their education and training, increase their wages, transition to jobs with improved working conditions, and start their own businesses. Seventy two percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ DACA recipients. DACA recipients—often referred to as Dreamers—are therefore able to bolster our economy by purchasing goods such as cars and homes.

In total, DACA recipients contribute roughly $1 billion in tax revenue each year.

But in light of the recent announcement, significant social and economic gains are imminently at risk. DACA is a temporary reprieve from deportation that is subject to renewal every two years. The administration has indicated that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer consider new applications for DACA, and will only accept renewal applications until October 5, 2017, for individuals whose DACA status expires between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018. This means that nearly 800,000 young people who have become beneficiaries of DACA over the past five years will soon face the possibility of deportation, and lose the work authorization that has enabled them to secure significant economic gains for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Countless educational institutions, major industries, and small businesses that have come to rely on the efforts and contributions of DACA recipients will also be negatively affected. President Trump’s decision to rescind the DACA program has cast a veil of uncertainty for hundreds of thousands of young people, their families, and their allies about their future in this country. This uncertainty permeates our very social and economic fabric as a nation. Now, it is up to Congress to furnish a durable solution that will allow Dreamers to fulfill the promise and the spirit of DACA.

If you are a DACA recipient, visit The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) for information about the future of the program. ILRC has released a DACA Renewal Infographic in English and Spanish; a comprehensive community advisory titled, “What Do I Need to Know about the End of DACA?” available in English, Spanish, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Arabic, and Korean; and a nine page ‘end of DACA’ FAQ.

The DACA program has had a broad-ranging impact for not only those 800,000 undocumented individuals who have emerged from the shadows under its protection, but for American society as a whole.

This is a guest post by 2015 Fellow Laura Flores-Dixit, of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

For the past four years, I have had the privilege of serving low-wage immigrant communities while learning from the immigration advocates at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. My experiences as an AmeriCorps member in rural Texas, a volunteer law student, an Equal Justice Works Fellow, and now an Immigration Staff Attorney in rural California, have all reaffirmed my commitment to serving immigrants in geographically isolated communities.

In light of recent announcements about the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I have compiled the following overview of the federal program. Here are eight things you should know about DACA:

Announcement:

On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking on behalf of President Donald J. Trump, announced the wind-down and end of the DACA program.

Meaning:

Beneficiaries whose DACA requests expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 can renew their DACA for an additional two years; however, renewal applications must be received by October 5, 2017. Unfortunately, all other DACA holders cannot renew their DACA, but may still use their Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) until they expire.

Effects:

800,000 individuals and their families have benefited directly from opportunities created by DACA. Ninety-three percent of DACA holders over the age of 25 are employed, and have seen their hourly wage increase by 84 percent after receiving DACA. These individuals are teachers, construction workers, nurses, farm workers, and caregivers, many of whom have spouses, children, and siblings who are U.S. citizens. In addition to destabilizing families’ financial security, the announcement affects the lives of students, patients, and all other communities who benefit from the employment of DACA holders. Beyond these profound societal effects, research shows that by ending DACA, the U.S. will lose a potential $460.3 billion in contribution to our gross domestic product (GDP) over the next ten years.

Resources:

  •  National organizations like United We Dream, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and the National Immigration Law Council provide credible updates on issues affecting immigrants.
  •  Local foreign consulates and trusted nonprofits are also good resources. + In a 2014 study, 14.3 percent of those eligible for DACA were also found eligible for more permanent immigration relief. To locate an immigration nonprofit near you that offers free or low-cost immigration services, such as immigration eligibility screening, please visit the Immigration Advocates Network Legal Services Directory. + NOTE: You should only seek immigration advice from an experienced and licensed immigration attorney or Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited representative. It is unlawful for notarios, immigration consultants, and tax preparers to provide immigration legal advice.

Intersectionality:

Immediately following the announcement, DACA holders, other undocumented community members, and allies in the Black Lives Matter movement, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups, LGBTQ groups, indigenous communities, Muslim communities, disability activism groups, veterans’ groups, and women’s rights groups condemned the decision of President Trump to rescind DACA. In the days and years ahead, it is crucial that we take on and defend each other’s struggles as our own by learning, recognizing, and embracing the intersections of our lived human experiences.

Call to Action:

We must #DefendDACA. DACA holders are important continuants who can and have demanded that elected officials hear their concerns. DACA holders are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and it is the voting base’s obligation to demand that elected officials protect our community members or risk losing reelection. Together, in solidarity, we must make democracy work for all members of American society, including the disenfranchised.

Additional Considerations:

Ninety percent of DACA holders received a state driver’s license or identification card for the first time after DACA. These individuals should research their ability to use their current state identification cards once their DACA expires, as well as other local identification options, as some states and cities offer licenses or identification cards for undocumented residents. DACA holders can look for resources, such as state agencies and local nonprofits, to learn more about their rights as students, their rights as employees, and how their health-care access may change once their DACA expires.

Narrative:

With a spotlight on DACA, there is an opportunity to demand protection not only for DACA holders, but for all immigrants. We must remember that DACA holders are not political pawns to be negotiated with, and that it is time to move beyond the good immigrant/bad immigrant dichotomy, recognizing the contribution of all immigrants to American society, regardless of their academic, criminal, or immigration history.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Trump administration is rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Established in 2012, DACA has offered undocumented individuals, often described as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children a chance to be shielded from deportation. Now, nearly 800,000 young people who live, work, and attend school in our communities face the risk of deportation.

“We recognize and value the contributions made by Dreamers to our communities and our country,” says David Stern, Executive Director of Equal Justice Works. “We serve our nation best when the best among us are given a chance to contribute. We will continue our ongoing effort to ensure that immigrant communities have fair and equal access to legal representation.”

From 2015 to 2017, Equal Justice Works has supported Fellows providing high quality, high-volume legal services to immigrants seeking relief through DACA. Here are a few of the many incredible stories of DACA recipients who have gained legal protection to go to college and support their families, as told by the Fellows who assisted them.

Veronica Garcia, 2016 Fellow at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California.
In light of recent developments, Centro Legal de la Raza is offering free informational events for DACA recipients and other interested parties in Oakland: on September 9, they will host a community forum featuring free immigration consultations with attorneys; on September 15, they will host a DACA renewal workshop.

“S. and M. are sisters who have lived in California since they were two and five years old. In 2006, when S. was a sophomore in high school, she participated in Centro Legal’s Youth Law Academy (YLA), a program for local high school students interested in pursuing legal careers. While S. attended the YLA after school, M. would hang around the Centro Legal office waiting for her older sister and dreaming of one day becoming an attorney herself. M. joined the YLA as soon as she was old enough.

Both sisters dreamed of going to law school but knew that their undocumented status would make their path to law school extremely challenging. Fortunately, Centro Legal was able to apply for M. and S.’s first DACA in August of 2012 and has continued to offer them and their family legal support. Last year, M. attended Centro Legal’s Diversity Legal Pipeline, a program for college students and graduates interested in law school. Now, both sisters have graduated from universities and are on their way to attaining advanced degrees.”

Elizabeth Zambrana, 2015 Fellow at Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), in Westminster, Colorado.
RMIAN’s official statement on the future of DACA can be found here.

“One family stands out in particular among the team’s rural clients. The team connected with the family through an outreach presentation in the Denver-Metro area. The family lived in an undeserved part of the state and traveled over an hour to attend the presentation. Initially, we provided DACA representation for one of the children in the family. The family was one of the most vulnerable families that the team had worked with: they had been victimized by notarios several times, and had been taken advantage of financially because the client’s parents were unable to read or write. Over the course of the team’s representation of the client, the family was evicted from their home and one of the parents lost their job. The team successfully obtained DACA for the client and is currently providing additional legal assistance to one of the parents.”

Megan Sheffield , 2014 Fellow at Equal Justice Center (EJC) in Austin, Texas.
For those in the Austin, Texas area, EJC provides individualized legal assistance to help with DACA applications, and offers a toll-free hotline at (888) 670-6854. In preparation for the October 5th DACA renewal deadline, EJC has set up an emergency fund to help pay the $495 application fee—a high barrier for many—required for those applying for DACA renewal. Donations in any amount will be used entirely to pay these application fees, and can be made on EJC’s website prior to October 5th, here.

“In one case in particular, I was able to assist a client in obtaining Advance Parole, a special permit that enabled her to travel outside the United States and safely return. This client used her Advance Parole to study abroad—completing a requirement for her bachelor degree—and visit an ailing family member outside of the U.S. In the course of this representation, I also assisted with reopening her prior removal case and successfully terminating her prior deportation order. This gave her the freedom to not only achieve her educational goals and visit a sick relative she had not seen in decades, but it also opened up additional immigration opportunities for her in the future.”

We serve our nation best when the best among us are given a chance to contribute. We will continue our ongoing effort to ensure that immigrant communities have fair and equal access to legal representation.

David Stern /
Executive Director, Equal Justice Works