BBA Hosts Panel on the Haitian Migrant Crisis – A Boston Perspective
This week the BBA hosted a panel of local experts on the Haitian migrant crisis: Dr. Geralde Gabeau of Immigrant Family Services Institute, Sara Wilson of Lawyers for Civil Rights, Nancy Kelly of Greater Boston Legal Services, and Irene Freidel of Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project. The recent instability in Haiti brought about by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July and an earthquake that killed over 2,000 people and injured 12,000 more in August, contributed to thousands of Haitian people seeking asylum at the U.S. border this fall. Many Haitians have since made their way to Boston, which is home to the third-largest Haitian-immigrant population in the U.S. Our esteemed panelists led an engaging discussion on historically discriminatory immigration policies against Haitians, the challenges experienced by newly arrived migrants in Boston, their mistreatment at the border, and the legal action being taken in response. The need for legal assistance for Haitian migrants is clear, with approximately 90 percent being denied asylum in cases without representation, and 82 percent of those with representation being denied. The full recording of this program is available on the BBA website, and you can check back here for an in-depth analysis of these issues in the new year.
Meeting with Boston Immigration Court
Last week, BBA President Deb Manus joined Immigration Law section co-chair Alexandra Peredo Carroll (KIND), MBA President Thomas Bond, AILA-NE chair Annelise Araujo and Nancy Kelly of GBLS in a meeting with Regional Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Mary Cheng. The meeting was called to discuss the joint BBA/MBA resolution calling upon the Boston Immigration Court to adopt several measures to improve transparency, communications, and efficiency. Some steps have already been taken — including the hiring of a court administrator based in Boston to oversee management and administration and the return of the administrative-closure policy that gives judges more discretion to effectively manage their dockets as they see fit. Judge Cheng promised to consider the rest and committed to keeping the dialogue open.
Since April, when the BBA, MBA, and AILA adopted the resolution, a number of moves by the Immigration Court, both locally and nationally, have improved the climate for litigants and their counsel who appear there. For example, the new court administrator has significantly improved communication between the Court and advocates, who report that there is more openness about sharing information, with all clerks’ e-mail addresses now available and one clerk tasked with addressing all scheduling issues. Similarly, all e-mail addresses for staff have been shared, and there is improved communication on the judges’ rotation.
At our meeting, we thanked Judge Cheng for these and other changes that have created an improved environment at the Boston court, while also emphasizing recommendations from the resolution that have yet to be implemented, such as mandating pre-trial conferencing between counsel for the government and for the respondent, presided by an immigration judge, in order to narrow issues for review before the court and ensure efficient adjudication of cases. Judge Cheng agreed that regular stakeholder meetings hosted by the Court would offer practitioners an opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions, and maintain an open channel of communication with the Court, to increase efficiency and ensure compliance with all processes established and preferred by the Boston Immigration Court.
We also raised concerns about the “dedicated docket”, created since the resolution was drafted, which now has about 17,000 cases in the Boston court alone and limits judges’ opportunity to take into account the individual needs of each case. Even if local officials can’t roll back this national policy, there’s room for more flexibility with time standards, to allow litigants to find counsel and to ensure proper notice, especially for children.
All those present agreed that regular meetings like this one will benefit all court users, and we intend to follow up on the remaining items from that agenda.
BBA Comments on Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility
In October, the BBA submitted comments on the Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility in response to a Department of Homeland Security advanced notice of proposed rule-making. These comments built on our previous advocacy against the Public Charge Rule that was implemented in 2019. The BBA’s Immigration Principles adopted in 2018 specifically address the fact that “immigrants are deterred from asserting their civil rights with respect to housing, healthcare, labor and employment, education, and public benefits when they fear that doing so may lead to immigration enforcement against them or their families or may negatively affect their future ability to pursue U.S. citizenship.” Indeed, research highlighted in our letter showed that the Public Charge Rule deterred immigrants and their family members from seeking nutrition assistance, housing access, and healthcare which they were legally entitled to.* While a Biden administration executive order largely limited the effects of the Rule as of April 2021, the BBA felt it important to underscore our support for access to justice and equal protection under the law for noncitizens and citizens alike, urging that crucial benefits such as “Medicaid, Medicare Part D prescription drug assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing support not be considered as factors in a public-charge test.”
In November, DHS released an update stating that it has “reverted to the 1999 interim field guidance issued by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, ” which was in effect prior to the 2019 rule, to “help ensure that noncitizens are able to access important government services” – including those aforementioned benefits outlined in our letter. We applaud this step in the right direction, but in order for immigrants’ rights to be fully protected in our increasingly diverse country, legislative action will be necessary to ensure that access to benefits and services cannot be curtailed in the future solely by executive action. Over a quarter of Bostonians were born outside the U.S.** and Greater Boston has become one of the number-one destinations for newly arrived immigrants, as such we have a responsibility to noncitizen community members. As a stalwart advocate for meaningful access to justice and equal protection under the law, the BBA will continue to follow the rule-making process, share information about new regulations, and advocate to protect the fundamental rights and human dignity for all members of our community.
* Jeremy Barofsky, Ariadna Vargas, Dinardo Rodriguez, and Anthony Barrows, “Spreading Fear: The Announcement of the Public Charge Rule Reduced Enrollment in Child Safety-Net Programs,” Health Affairs, No. 10, p. 1752-1761, October 2020, available at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00763.
** Rita Kiki Edozie, Barbara Lewis, William Monroe, Shauna Lo, Trevor Mattos, Mark Melnik, Lorna Rivera, Mauricio Gastón, Luc Schuster, Watanabe, Institute for Asian American Studies, Gail Waterhouse, J. Cedric Woods, “Changing Faces of Greater Boston,” Boston Foundation, May 2019, available at: https://www.bostonindicators.org/-/media/indicators/boston-indicators-reports/report-files/changing-faces-2019/indicators-changing-facesf2web.pdf
Government Relations Assistant
Boston Bar Association