On Friday, one of the smartest, kindest, fiercest attorneys I know was detained by Mexican authorities for NINE HOURS WITH NO FOOD OR WATER with her SEVEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER before being summarily deported from the airport back to the United States. COINCIDENTALLY, two other attorneys with Al Otro Lado as well as journalists who have been working with/covering Central American asylum seekers in Tijuana are being prevented from traveling to Mexico. Apparently, they have suddenly been flagged as security risks by an “unknown” government (I’ll give you one guess whose government that is) RIGHT AT THE SAME TIME that the Trump Administration is illegally forcing those same asylum seekers to make their cases from Mexico.
Al Otro Lado is a thorn in the side of the Trump Administration. It is a non-profit providing know-your-rights training and legal orientation workshops in migrant shelters in Tijuana and direct legal representation to detained asylum seekers in Southern California. The program documents human rights violations committed against asylum seekers at the port of entry and inside immigration detention, and the project’s data has been cited by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights First. The project also provides technical assistance to attorneys with case needs in Mexico. Al Otro Lado partners with the University of California Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, USC Sol School of Public Policy, and UC Hastings’ Center for Gender and Refugee Studies to protect the legal rights of asylum seekers.
Nora Phillips is the Legal Director at Al Otro Lado, and an all-around chingona badass lawyer. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT NORA PHILLIPS. Nora has been fighting for justice for immigrants since 2007. She worked at CARECEN, the non-profit that provides legal services to Central Americans. Nora Phillips is a nationally recognized expert on U visas (which are visas for immigrant victims of crime who are participating in the reporting and prosecution of the crimes against them), DACA, and immigration relief for victims of domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act. Nora has been a leader in our community of immigration lawyers.
Nora Phillips was one of the 2018 Child 10 Awardees for her “brave and relentless struggle to protect and prevent child abuse, exploitation and violations.” Nora was recognized by the national American Immigration Lawyers Association with the 2017 Michael Maggio Memorial Pro Bono Award for outstanding efforts in providing pro bono representation in the immigration field. Nora is also on the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Immigration Section. Nora Phillips also gives great hugs.
The only way that Nora Phillips —defender of the powerless, protector of immigrant children and families— was flagged as a security risk to anyone is the gross abuse of power. You had best believe that we will be asking the House Oversight Committee to look into this.
In addition to Nora’s summary ejection from Mexico, Al Otro Lado Litigation and Policy Director Erika Pinheiro was also denied admission to Mexico, and Refugee Program Director Nicole Ramos has had her SENTRI trusted traveler status revoked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Mind you, CBP only approves SENTRI status (which allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers returning to the United States) after a rigorous background check and in-person interview, which Nicole had passed. The fact that SENTRI can only be revoked by CBP points to whose government is behind this move.
In response to Nora and her daughter’s detention and forced return to LAX from Mexico, our community sprung into action. She was met by friends, supporters, and local civil rights/immigration advocates, including representatives from the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, CARECEN. Immigration attorneys and advocates all over the United States, many of whom have traveled to Tijuana to volunteer with Al Otro Lado (Ava Benach, Andrew Free, Kara Lynum and others) jumped onto social media to publicize this gross abuse of power and contacted their Senators and Congressmen demanding an investigation.
Trump’s policy of forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico is already illegal under U.S. law and a gross violation of human rights. Asylum seekers are statistically FIVE TIMES more likely to win their cases if they are represented by counsel. The United States government has been engaged in a nonstop assault on immigrants, nonimmigrants, asylum seekers, and naturalized citizens for two years. When we KNOW that our government intentionally traumatized children to deter people fleeing for their lives from seeking the protection of the United States that they are legally entitled to request, OF COURSE, the Administration’s latest move is designed to interfere with their right to counsel so that they are less likely to win their cases.
One of Shakespeare’s best known lines of all time is this: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” That quote is famously misconstrued as an attack on attorneys, when, in fact, it is spoken by a character who wants to disrupt law and order so as to make a despot King. To which I respond by paraphrasing Samuel L. Jackson in “The Long Kiss Goodnight” when I say, “You can’t kill us, motherfuckers!”
Amy Maldonado is usually a calm, mature immigration attorney with a reputation within her professional community for her reasonableness (seriously). She tweets from @AmyMaldonadoLaw.