“DYNAMIC DUO” LEADS “GW IMMIGRATION CLINIC BRIGADE” OF THE NEW DUE PROCESS ARMY (“NDPA”) INTO ACTION – ADVANCING AND DEFENDING DUE PROCESS RIGHTS FOR OUR MOST VULNERABLE RESIDENTS WHILE TEACHING THE NEXT GENERATION OF LAWYERS! — PLUS SPECIAL BONUS: Text of My Presentation To Clinic Entitled “RECLAIMING THE VISION – A PLAN FOR ACTION”

 

Alberto M. Benítez

Before joining the Law School faculty as director of the Immigration Clinic in 1996, Professor Benítez was on the faculty of the legal clinics at Chicago Kent College of Law and Northwestern University School of Law. Prior to becoming a clinician, he was a staff attorney at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, as well as an intern at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Professor Benítez teaches Immigration Law. In addition, in the summers he has taught at the law schools of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and the Universidad Panamericana, in Mexico City. In the spring 2003 semester Professor Benítez was a visitor at the Boyd School of Law of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, assisting in the development of that law school’s immigration clinic.

Professor Benítez has devoted his entire legal career to working in the public interest, generally with aliens, and so he is familiar with immigration law in its proper context. Evictions, domestic violence, public benefits, etc., these are areas of law that influence the decisions made by the aliens. Professor Benítez was fortunate early in his career to be associated with several supportive, dedicated lawyers who enabled him to learn and progress from them. Therefore, he tries to pass on what he learned and how he learned it to his students, in particular the “learn by doing” system that his early colleagues used with him. That said, students will get out of their experience in this clinic and from their association with Professor Benítez what they put into it.

An Introduction to the United States Legal System by Professor Alberto Benitez

Paulina Vera

Paulina Vera, Esq. supervises Immigration Clinic law students and provides legal representation to asylum seekers and respondents facing deportation in Immigration Court. She previously served as the only Immigration Staff Attorney at the Maryland-based non-profit, CASA. Paulina is a 2015 graduate of The George Washington University Law School. During law school, she was a student-attorney at the Immigration Clinic and worked with Professor Benitez. She also interned at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), American Immigration Council, and the Arlington Immigration Court. Paulina is admitted to practice law in Maryland and before federal immigration tribunals.

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FORGET SESSIONS’S BOGUS SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST “DIRTY IMMIGRATION LAWYERS” — THESE ARE THE “REAL FACES” OF AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAW TODAY, FIGHTING TO PROTECT THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF ALL AMERICANS! — AND THEY AREN’T INTIMIDATED BY A DISINGENUOUS AND FEAR-MONGERING ATTORNEY GENERAL! 

I was pleased to be invited to speak to the GW Immigration Clinic on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.

 

I am, of course, particularly proud of my good friend the amazing Paulina Vera, who is a distinguished alum of both the GW Immigration Clinic and the Arlington Immigration Court Legal Intern Program!

 Here’s what I said:

 

 

RECLAIMING THE VISION – A PLAN FOR ACTION

 

BY PAUL WICKHAM SCHMIDT

UNITED STATES IMMIGRATON JUDGE (Retired)

 

The George Washington Law School Immigration Clinic

Washington, DC.

 

Nov. 2, 1017

 

 

Good afternoon, and thanks so much to you and my good friend and Alexandria neighbor Professor Alberto Benitez for inviting me. I want to express my deep appreciation for all of the great help that your Clinic gave to vulnerable migrants and to the Judges of the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA in carrying out our due process mission over the years that I was on the bench, from 2003 to 2016. I’m also delighted that the amazing Paulina Vera, a “distinguished alum” of the Arlington Immigration Court Internship Program is your Assistant Instructor.

 

Professor Benitez tells me that all of you have read my recent article from Bender’s Immigration Bulletin entitled “Immigration Courts: Reclaiming the Vision.” I of course was referring to the noble vision of “being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

 

As you also know, my article set forth a “five step” program for achieving this: 1) a return to Due Process as the one and only mission – ditching the current political manipulation of the courts; 2) an independent Article I Court structure, to replace the current outmoded “agency structure” in the DOJ: 3) professional court management along the lines of the Administrative Office for U.S. Courts and merit-based selection of judges; 4) an independent appellate body that functions in the manner of an Article III court, not as an “Agency Service Center;” and 5) an e-filing system to replace the current “files in the aisles.”

 

The question is how do we get there from here. Sadly, the individual who should be pushing these reforms, our Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has shown absolutely no interest in meaningful court reforms or protecting due process, beyond rather mindlessly proposing to throw many more new untrained judges into an already dysfunctional and disturbingly inconsistent judiciary and to force a system already careening out of control to “pedal even faster.” That’s a program for failure. Moreover, in my view, Sessions has demonstrated through his public statements and actions to date a clear pro-enforcement and anti-immigrant bias that makes him the wrong individual to be in change of a due process court system.

 

The other group who should be solving this problem is Congress. Immigration Court reform should be a bipartisan “no-brainer.” Both sides of the “immigration debate” should want a fair and efficient Immigration Court system that fully complies with due process, gets the results correct, and doesn’t accumulate huge backlogs. Unfortunately, however, Congress currently seems preoccupied with other issues that well might be less important to our country but more “politically expedient.” Although there is a fine draft “Article I Bill” floating around “The Hill,” prepared by the Federal Bar Association with input from the National Association of Immigration Judges, to date I am aware of no actual Congressional sponsor who has “thrown it in the hopper.”

 

So, do we abandon all hope? No, of course not!   Because there are hundreds of newer lawyers out there who are former Arlington JLCs, interns like Paulina, my former students, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court, and folks like you who have had the great leadership of Professor Benitez and others like him in Immigration, Refugee, and Asylum clinics throughout the country!

        

They form what I call the New Due Process Army!And, while my time on the battlefield is winding down, they are just beginning the fight! They will keep at it for years, decades, or generations — whatever it takes to force the U.S. immigration judicial system to live up to its promise of guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!

        

What can you do to get involved now? The overriding due process need is for competent representation of individuals claiming asylum and/or facing removal from the United States. Currently, there are not nearly enough pro bono lawyers to insure that everyone in Immigration Court gets represented.

       

And the situation is getting worse. With the Administrations planned expansion of so-called expedited removal,lawyers are needed at earlier points in the process to insure that those with defenses or plausible claims for relief even get into the Immigration Court process, rather than being summarily removed with little, if any, recourse.

 

Additionally, given the pressure that the Administration is likely to exert through the Department of Justice to movecases quickly through the Immigration Court system with little regard for due process and fundamental fairness, resort to the Article III Courts to require fair proceedings and an unbiased application of the laws becomes even more essential. Litigation in the U.S. District and Appellate Courts has turned out to be effective in forcing systemic change. However, virtually no unrepresented individual is going to be capable of getting to the Court of Appeals, let alone prevailing on a claim.

 

So, what you are doing here at the GW Immigration Clinic directly supports the Immigration Court reform movement by insuring that the system will not be able to continue to run over the rights of the unrepresented or underrepresented and that individuals who are unfairly denied relief at the Immigration Court and BIA levels are positioned to seek review in the independent Article III Courts.

 

I also have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the accredited representativeprogram, which allows properly trained and certified individuals who are not lawyers to handle cases before the DHS and the Immigration Courts while working for certain nonprofit community organizations, on either a staff or volunteer basis. Notwithstanding some recently publicized problems with policing the system, which I wrote about on my blog immigrationrcourtside.com, this is a critically important program for expanding representation in Immigration Courts. Additionally, the accredited representativeprogram is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, who are not lawyers to qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.

        

Even if you are not practicing or do not intend to practice immigration law, there are many outstanding opportunities to contribute by taking pro bono cases. Indeed, in my experience in Arlington, big lawfirms were some of the major contributors to highly effective pro bono representation. It was also great hands onexperience for those seeking to hone their litigation skills.

 

Those of you with language and teaching skills can help out in English Language Learning programs for migrants.   I have observed first hand that the better that individuals understand the language and culture of the US, the more successful they are in navigating our Immigration Court system and both assisting, and when necessary, challenging their representatives to perform at the highest levels. In other words, they are in a better position to be informed consumersof legal services.

        

Another critical area for focus is funding of nonprofit community-based organizations and religious groups that assist migrants for little or no charge. Never has the need for such services been greater.

 

But, many of these organizations receive at least some government funding for outreach efforts. We have already seen how the President has directed the DHS to “defund” outreach efforts and use the money instead for a program to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented individuals.

 

Undoubtedly, with the huge emphases on military expansion and immigration enforcement, to the exclusion of other important programs, virtually all forms of funding for outreach efforts to migrants are likely to disappear in the very near future. Those who care about helping others will have to make up the deficit. So, at giving time, remember your community nonprofit organizations that are assisting foreign nationals.

 

The Federal Bar Association (“FBA) has been a strong moving force for court reform resulting in an Article I U.S. Immigration Court. So, becoming a “student member” of the FBA and getting involved with our local chapter is another way to support reform.

 

Finally, as an informed voter and participant in our political process, you can advance the cause of Immigration Court reform and due process. For the last 16 years politicians of both parties have largely stood by and watched the unfolding due process disaster in the U.S. Immigration Courts without doing anything about it, and in some cases actually making it worse.

 

The notion that Immigration Court reform must be part of so-called comprehensive immigration reformis simply wrong. The Immigration Courts can and must be fixed sooner rather than later, regardless of what happens with overall immigration reform. Its time to let your Senators and Representatives know that we need due process reforms in the Immigration Courts as one of our highest national priorities.

 

Folks the U.S Immigration Court system is on the verge of collapse. And, there is every reason to believe that the misguided enforce and detain to the maxpolicies being pursued by this Administration will drive the Immigration Courts over the edge. When that happens, a large chunk of the entire American justice system and the due process guarantees that make American great and different from most of the rest of the world will go down with it.

In conclusion, I have shared with you the Courts noble due process vision and my view that it is not currently being fulfilled. I have also shared with you my ideas for effective court reform that would achieve the due process vision and how you can become involved in improving the process.

 

Now is the time to take a stand for fundamental fairness’! Join the New Due Process Army! Due process forever!   

 

Thanks again for inviting me and for listening. I’d be happy to take questions or listen to suggestions.

 

(11-05-17)

 

Here’s a link to the above text:

RECLAIMING THE VISION – A PLAN FOR ACTION

PWS

11-05-17

 

 

JAMESTOWN NY POST-JOURNAL: GW Law Immigration Clinic Students Sarah DeLong & Maley Sullivan On “Bridging The Gap” With Immigrants!

http://www.post-journal.com/opinion/2017/04/bridging-the-gap-between-us-and-immigrants/

“As third-year law students and student-attorneys of the Immigration Clinic at The George Washington University Law School, we have the honor of representing immigrants from around the world while guiding them through our very complex immigration system.

Through this experience, we’ve learned that immigrants are just like us. They share our values of family and community; education and opportunity; freedom and security. They’re individuals who are trying to make the best decisions for themselves and for their loved ones.

But in many ways immigrants are not like us. There are some things that you and I will never fully understand. There are some things that we, having grown up under the cloak of privilege afforded us by our status as natural born citizens of the United States, will never have to endure.

So how do we bridge this gap? Why should we take time from our uniquely challenging lives to appreciate and understand our privilege? To what end?

For many student-attorneys, the answer is simple: I am an immigrant. I was an immigrant. My parents are or were immigrants. For the two of us, and countless others, however, what we view as our obligation to welcome and accommodate immigrants has been challenged regularly by our government, our communities, and even our families.

. . . .

We have learned countless lessons from working in the Immigration Clinic. Not the least, we have learned that, although our privilege may protect us from ever having to stand in the shoes of our clients, it has afforded us the extraordinary opportunity to confront the status quo and encourage reconciliation.”

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I encourage everyone to read the complete article at the link. Thanks to Professor Alberto Benitez of the GW Immigration Clinic for bringing this to my attention. And, thanks to Sarah and Maley for your caring, your insights, and all that you are doing for America.

PWS

04-09-17

 

 

Know Your Rights Presentation with Professor Alberto Benitez and Chris Carr, JD ’17

https://vimeo.com/user9108723/review/203448069/ae155e4ae3

Professor Benitez and his students from the George Washington Law School Immigration Clinic have consistently made huge contributions to due process and the excellence of immigration practice at the Arlington Immigration Court. I highly recommend this educational video!!

PWS

02/11/17

GW Hatchett: Professor Alberto Benitez’s GW Immigration Law Clinic Serves The Community While Teaching “Real Life” Legal Skills!

https://www.gwhatchet.com/2017/02/05/law-school-immigration-clinic-readies-for-trump-impact/

“As international students across the country grappled this week with the fallout from President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, a group of law students were bracing to defend undocumented immigrants.

Student-attorneys from GW Law School’s Immigration Clinic arranged to hold information sessions for international students and collect donations to educate the public about what they called a misunderstood immigration system and the potential impact of Trump’s executive order.

The order blocked all refugee resettlement for four months and banned entry into the United States for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. On Friday, a federal judge temporarily halted the order, reopening the country’s borders to previously blocked travelers and refugees.

While attorneys said no more students than usual have called for legal representation, they were barraged with emails from concerned international students.

The clinic co-hosted a “Know Your Rights” presentation Thursday with the Muslim Law Students Association to offer advice for non-resident students who were concerned about their immigration status.

“We’re trying to be more proactive. I think everybody right now wants to be more proactive and wants to know what can we do,” clinic attorney and law school student Fanny Wong said.

The clinic provides free legal representation for clients who face deportation or are seeking asylum or U.S. citizenship, student-attorneys said. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, law school students wait by the phone fielding calls from immigrants who need help. Each of the nine law students takes in an average three clients at a time. The length of each case varies, some drag though the legal system for years requiring multiple students to take up the case.

Attorneys said the clinic currently didn’t have any clients from the seven affected countries, but Wong said she had a client from Sudan who became a naturalized citizen in October after a nearly nine-year-long process.

“Can you imagine the situation that she would have been had this been two months ago?” she said. “She’s relieved as well, but she’s also scared for her family and friends.”

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There will be no shortage of need for well-trained immigration and Constitutional lawyers on all sides of these issues. And, there also will be a continuing need for fair, thoughtful, scholarly judges who can find the way through the legal labyrinth of immigration and nationality law at the intersection with Constitutional protections and authorities.

PWS

02/06/15

Optimists’ Corner: Human Dialogue Overcomes Political Divide At Busboys & Poets

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/01/24/not-race-not-gender-just-american-these-white-men-left-their-black-waitress-an-uplifting-note-and-a-450-tip/?postshare=4291485513678958&tid=ss_fb&utm_term=.b959856dabfa

Colby Ikowitz writes in the Washington Post:

“But she said the men left her with so much more. Their words were a reminder not to make assumptions. And that so many Americans want unity, regardless of their politics, and to not be afraid to connect with someone as human beings, she said.

“This definitely reshaped my perspective. Republican, Democrat, liberal are all subcategories to what we are experiencing,” she said. “It instills a lot of hope.”

For White, he said he wanted to show her that they probably have more in common than it would appear.

“As I sat there I thought about the entire weekend and I thought I don’t know her, she doesn’t know me, but if most Americans have a preconceived perception about people then we’re never going to get better,” he said.”

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This “upbeat” take on today’s politics was forwarded to me by my ever optimistic friend, neighbor, and fellow dog walker Professor Alberto Benítez from GW Law. Teacher, role model, and steadfast advocate for social justice, human dignity, and understanding, Professor Benítez and his Clinic Students have been saving lives while doing good in the Arlington Immigration Court for many years. Lots of his alums are out there “making a difference every day” in Government, private practice, the NGO community, and academia.

One of the many great things the Professor has taught his student-attorneys is who really makes our justice system work at the “retail level:” of course, it is the dedicated, hard working, professional court staff who can tell you more about what the practice of law is actually about than almost any judge, prosecutor, or academic.  When I worked at Dane County Legal Services after my first year at U.W. Law, my supervising attorney immediately took me over to the courthouse and introduced me to the folks in the Clerk’s Office. He said “These are the people who are going to make you or break you as a lawyer, so treat them well and they’ll show you the ropes.” It’s a lesson I never forgot.

Another great thing about Professor Benítez is his “Wisconsin connection” through his wonderful wife Janice, a native of the famous Fox River Valley metropolis of Oshkosh (by gosh, there really is such a place)!

PWS

01/27/17