Columnist Bill Newman: Resisting America’s broken immigration system

  • In this March 6, 2015, photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex in Dallas.  AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/6/2018 10:35:08 PM

For a detainee locked up by ICE, Immigration Court bond matters. A lot.

A detainee who is released on bond (the Immigration Court equivalent of bail) has time to prepare an effective defense. Conversely, denial of bond effectively shuttles an immigrant onto a fast track for deportation.

Keep in mind that deportation is a civil proceeding, not criminal, so a detainee has no right to a lawyer. A detainee with a lawyer at a bond hearing has a far better chance of being released, but most detainees at their bond hearings do not have an attorney. This is why bond representation has been a priority for the Immigrant Protection Project of Western Massachusetts (IPP) since it was founded by the ACLU of Massachusetts in April 2017.

Of course, bond only matters if it can be posted. IPP recently initiated a fund that, in coordination with resources provided by a detainee’s family, friends and supportive religious and community groups, helps post Immigration Court bonds.

The IPP also:

represents individuals who should be freed from indefinite U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody because they cannot be deported, as they are stateless;

conducts, with two other immigrant rights legal groups, monthly sessions for immigrants held at the ICE pod at the Franklin County jail;

helps parents prepare family protection documents to ensure safe arrangements for their kids if a family separation is caused by an ICE detention;

assists individuals with Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and temporary protected status renewals after President Donald Trump’s attempted revocation of those programs. (Contrary to Trump’s recent accusations, no one is crossing the border to get DACA status, which requires, as one of its criteria, that the individual has lived in the United States continuously since 2007);

initiated a translation service for immigration lawyers working pro bono or “low bono” who need documents translated, particularly in asylum cases;

arranges, when appropriate, for individuals to have a pro bono consultation with an immigration attorney to plan next steps;

coordinates a regional — from New Haven to northern Franklin County — network of advocates that includes law schools, law firms and advocacy groups (ICE functions regionally and not by state so we must, too);

continues representation of some clients after bond. Ashfield attorney Buz Eisenberg, for example, recently freed his Iraqi client, Niberd Abdalla, after eight months in the Suffolk County jail. Eisenberg now is helping him reopen his immigration case;

advocates for “safe city” ordinances and related legislation, including recently joining with community activists to successfully support passage of an ordinance that prohibits police surveillance cameras (with images available to ICE) in downtown Northampton;

and provides legal information, counsel and assistance on religious sanctuary and other related issues, cases and efforts.

The heart of IPP is its call center, staffed by dozens of trained and talented bilingual volunteers. Call center workers spend countless hours speaking to hundreds of immigrants to identify their concerns. IPP then, after consultation with legal counsel, makes appropriate referrals, sometimes to IPP-affiliated lawyers, sometimes to community partners, who provide myriad services for immigrants.

Recently, Javier Luengo-Garrido, the IPP coordinator, and I spoke about the project at a workshop, part of the “Power of An Equitable Community” conference in Greenfield, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists of Western Massachusetts. Afterward, one of the conference coordinators, Pam Kelly, remarked that IPP initiatives constituted “a systemic response” to the immigration dilemma.

Kelly is on to something. Western Massachusetts has developed a systemic and coordinated community response but that response is not simply, or primarily, about the IPP — although IPP plays a part. Rather, the paradigm is about partnerships, shared beliefs, a willingness to help, to be unselfish and to value community.

For its part, IPP has joined together to make available legal and other services and coordinate with some 35 community-based project partners — the Pioneer Valley Project, Community Legal Aid and Cliniquita in Springfield; the Holyoke Health Center in Holyoke; the International Language Institute, the Center for New Americans and the Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center in Northampton; Community Action in Greenfield; the Brick House in Turners Falls; and the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield, for example.

The IPP and project partners work together. Referrals go both ways. There is interwoven cooperation and assistance involving, most importantly, the immigrant communities as well as organizations that serve immigrants.

The assembled resources embody an ability and willingness to struggle for justice on many fronts: in the various court systems that impact immigration and deportation decisions, at the level of local government for humane and common-sense law enforcement practices, in the media and on the streets.

Two sobering caveats. First, immigration can be a world of heartbreak. Sometimes we cannot see any path toward status or a stay of removal. Second, all of our efforts and planning does not mean that we necessarily have the resources to meet a full-fledged local onslaught by ICE. Hopefully we will not need to find out.

Still, our collective efforts have created a formidable resistance to America’s heartless, discriminatory and broken immigration system. The work goes on. The fight continues.

Bill Newman is the director of the Western Massachusetts Regional Office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which founded and is the parent organization of the Immigrant Protection Project of Western Massachusetts. He can be reached at

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