MEET THE GOOD GUYS: NOVA SUPERSTAR IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY AVA BENACH HELPS “DREAMER TYPES” & THEY HELP AMERICA – THIS IS THE WAY THE SYSTEM CAN WORK WHEN YOU GET BEYOND THE WHITE NATIONALIST XENOPHOBIA OF TRUMP, SESSIONS, & MILLER & WHEN GREAT LAWYERS GET INVOLVED!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/she-was-almost-deported-as-a-teen-now-she-helps-frightened-versions-of-herself/2018/02/15/b39969a8-1245-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html

Petula Dvorak writes in the Washington Post:

“She was almost deported as a teen. Now she helps frightened versions of herself.


Liana Montecinos is a senior paralegal at Benach Collopy in Washington. She was 17 and about to be deported when lawyer Ava Benach helped her win asylum. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Columnist February 15 at 3:39 PM

On many days in the shiny, sleek law office — in her sharp suit and sweeping view of Washington — she revisits all the horrors most people would want to forget:

The drunk men bursting into her tiny, adobe home at night, terrorizing the 15 children who lived there.

The walk across three countries, fearing for her life the entire way.

The months of eating nothing but beans and rice.

These are the same stories Liana Montecinos hears just about every time the 29-year-old paralegal sits down with a client.

Ava Benach, from left, Satsita Muradova and Liana Montecinos chat at their law office. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

She doesn’t have to go there. She’s an American citizen and a third-year law student with a great future in front of her. But instead of going into something lucrative — corporate law, for example — she’s sticking with the law firm that helped her get political asylum.

“Being an immigrant and serving immigrants, it’s a very special connection,” Montecinos said.

And by doing that, she spends her days with frightened versions of herself.

I wanted to tell Montecinos’s story as Congress grapples with the fate of 1.8 million “dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. They face deportation under President Trump unless Congress can find a way to reinstate the protection they were given by President Barack Obama.

Montecinos was brought across the border by a relative in 1999, when she was 11 years old, after walking — yes, actually walking — from Honduras, across Guatemala, then across Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande into the United States.

She joined her mother in Northern Virginia — they had been separated since she was an infant and she had been raised by her grandmother — and her life was transformed.

She played volleyball and basketball in her Falls Church high school. She was a cheerleader and soccer player. She took Advanced Placement classes.

But no matter how well she was doing in school and no matter how faint her accent became, she knew it could all fall apart any second.

And it nearly did when she was 17 and applied for legal status. Instead, the government began removal proceedings. She was going to be deported.

But it didn’t stop her from graduating from high school and enrolling at George Mason University, where she received a scholarship to cover the triple-tuition she had to pay as an undocumented student.

The scholarship’s donor — Helen Ackerman — introduced Montecinos to D.C. immigration attorney Ava Benach, who took on her complex case. What followed was a 10-year struggle.

“I met Liana when she was 17 years old,” Benach said. “And I knew she was special. She was out there, trying to figure out her own immigration status. I felt a very parental desire to help her.”

So they took on the case together, with Montecinos never giving up.

“I’d be doing an all-nighter, knowing I had a hearing the next day and the judge could send me away and it would all be for nothing,” she said.

But she kept studying, striving and working. You know how folks are always saying “Why don’t they just get legal?” It’s not that easy.

It took 10 years of hearings and arguments to convince a judge that she faced threats and violence in Honduras, in that tiny, adobe house, and that her hard work in school, model citizenship and potential were enough to grant her a place in American society.

Asylum is granted only to someone who faces persecution in their home country. And that persecution has to be for one of five reasons: your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or your political opinion.

“It has to fit in one of five boxes,” Benach said. And her life’s work is helping her frightened clients qualify.

Montecinos was granted asylum and citizenship on June 29, 2016.

“For many, becoming a U.S. citizen is the last part of the process,” Montecinos wrote on her Facebook page that day. “For others, like myself, it is the beginning to end 16 plus years of uncertainty and of fear of a forceful return to imminent harm.”

She called herself “extremely blessed and thankful for such a privilege, which is denied to many,” she said. “This path, however, was not easy. It was not short. It was not cheap.”

She is in her third year of law school at the University of the District of Columbia, where she received a Student Humanitarian and Civic Engagement award on Thursday.

In her spare time, you see, she runs a nonprofit group she founded, United for Social Justice, which helps low-income, first-generation Americans get access to higher education. Oh, and she coaches and plays on a bunch of soccer teams.

When she meets with the undocumented children who are like her, the ones she is fighting for, it reminds her of her struggle.

Though her own story is horrible — think of being 11 and scared, hiding your face with blankets as you cross strange villages where people are yelling “pollos mojados” (wet chickens) at you, not knowing where you’re going — her clients recount even more heart-stopping stories.

She hears from children who were kidnapped, who rode for days on top of speeding trains, afraid to fall asleep because they’d fall off, from a little girl who was gang-raped in front of her father.”

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Ava has a “Major League” legal mind to go with a “heart of gold!” She and her colleagues from her firm appeared on many occasions before me at the Arlington Immigration Court.

This article aptly illustrates one of the points I often make.  Asylum law has intentionally been “jacked” against Central Americans by a non-independent BIA working under pressure from politicos to limit protections to large groups. Nevertheless, with a good lawyer (e.g., one who isn’t afraid to argue the BIA’s — often otherwise ignored — favorable precedents back to them and to take wrong BIA denials to the Court of Appeals if necessary), resources to build and document a case, and persistence, most of the “Dreamers” probably could win some type of relief in Immigration Court if not at the Asylum Office or elsewhere at USCIS.

But, what rational reason could there be for forcing folks like Liana Montecinos who are already here, part of our society, and just want to become taxpaying citizens and REALLY “Make America Great” (not to be confused with the disingenuous racist slogan of Trump and his White Nationalist “base”) go through such a laborious process? And what possible rationale could there be for wasting the time of an already overburdened Immigration Court system with cases of individuals who clearly should be welcomed and accepted into American society without being placed in “Removal Proceedings?” Also, what would be the rationale for trying to artificially “speed up” complex cases like Liana’s and trying to make life difficult for talented lawyers like Ava?

The answer is clear: there is NO rationale for the “Gonzo” Immigration enforcement and “designed chaos and attack on Due Process in Immigration Court” that Trump, Miller, Sessions, Nielsen, Tom Homan and their ilk are trying to ram down our throats. Sessions is the problem for justice in our Immigration Courts; lawyers like Ava are a key part of the solution! Clearly, the U.S. Immigration Courts are too important to our system of justice to be left in the clutches of a biased, “enforcement only,” White Nationalist, xenophobic opponent of individual due process like Jeff Sessions! American needs an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court! Harm to the least and most vulnerable among us is harm to all!

The good news is that folks like Ava and her fellow “Generals” of the “New Due Process Army” are out there to fight Trump, Sessions & Company and their White Nationalist, anti-American actions every step of the way and to vindicate the Constitutional and legal rights of great American migrants like Liliana and millions of others similarly situated. They are “American’s future!” Trump, Sessions, Miller, et al., are the ugly past of America that all decent Americans should be committed to “putting in the rear-view mirror” where the “Trumpsters” live and belong! And, it won’t be long before Liliana becomes an attorney and a “full-fledged member” of the “New Due Process Army!”

Go Ava! Go Liliana! Due Process Forever! 

PWS

02-16-18

 

MORE GRATUITOUS CRUELTY AND BOGUS “LAW ENFORCEMENT” FROM DHS – DIMINISHING AMERICA AND MAKING ALL OF US SMALLER EVERY DAY – THAT’S THE TRUMP-SESSIONS-HOMAN WAY!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/she-cant-bear-to-leave-her-kids-but-she-doesnt-want-to-be-a-criminal/2017/10/09/44c40ea2-acfb-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html?utm_term=.63f3cbd1471b&wpisrc=nl_buzz&wpmm=1

Petula Dvorak reports for the Washington Post:

“Every night that the girls get home from soccer practice, do homework and eat dinner may be the last time they get to do this with their mom.

They all know this.

So every moment this week is being savored and remembered. They take extra walks together. Catia Paz’s husband cooks all of her favorite dinners. And she always agrees to read one more story to her daughters, 6 and 8, at bedtime.

The worst part? None of this has to happen.

Paz, 32, is facing a separation of at least 10 years from her husband and children because of political whim. And if you’ve recently supported the crackdown on immigration, please read on to see what that looks like in this small living room in Northern Virginia.

Paz has until Friday to self-deport.

Not because she committed a crime.

She’s a high school graduate (3.1 GPA) and an active church member. She’s worked at the same Nordstrom for the past 11 years. She’s on the snack rotation of her daughter’s soccer team. She could be any suburban mom.

But because she was 17 when she escaped her war-torn home town in El Salvador — not the cutoff age of 16 — even a miracle deal on the “dreamers,” those covered by the controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, wouldn’t help her.

The rest of her sprawling extended family — all 65 of them — have legal status.

“I know they want the bad hombres out,” Paz said, sitting in the living room of the tiny home in Woodbridge, Va., she and her husband bought last year. “I want them out, too. But I’m not one of them.”

She knows the arguments, hears the hatred. People saying they support immigration but only legal immigration.

“For their families, when they came, there weren’t all these papers. It wasn’t so hard,” she said. “It is all different now.”

Paz crossed the border illegally 15 years ago to escape the violence in El Salvador and join her parents, who were already in the United States. The immigration system learned about her presence in the country when her father applied for permanent residence under an act welcoming refugees from Central American violence. Instead, the parents got temporary protective status. Her sister got DACA protection because she was 16 when she came, but Catia got nothing; she’d arrived too late to qualify.

In 2011, an immigration judge ordered her removed from the country. She fought to remain, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted her multiple stays from 2012 to 2015, an agency spokeswoman said.

She was enrolled in ICE’s alternatives-to-detention program, but in September, when she checked in, she was given an ankle monitor and a deadline — self-deport by Oct. 13.

If she leaves, she can’t return for 10 years. So that means if her daughters, Genesis and Alison, stayed they would be 18 and 16 before they could see their mother again in the country of their birth.

Paz could just stay and hope something will work out, that the tide of popular opinion will turn, that a last-minute appeal by her lawyer will come through, that lawmakers, who are nearly all descendants of immigrants, will belatedly recognize what they are doing to families such as hers.

“But then, I’d always be scared,” she said. “They could grab me and deport me anytime. I don’t want my kids to see that. And if I stayed, I would be a criminal.”

“I’m not a criminal,” she said. “I want to keep a clean record.”

One of Paz’s friends in a similar situation decided to stay. She simply couldn’t leave her small children, so she stayed past her self-deportation date, hoping to go undetected.

“But a police officer pulled her over one day. She was taking her kids to school,” Paz said. “He said her back light wasn’t working.”

The woman was sent to a detention facility in another state, then immediately deported. She didn’t get to say goodbye to her kids.

“She finally had the kids sent to her,” Paz said. “But that’s not good, either. They are American citizens who now can’t even go to a good school.”

So that’s her dilemma. Does she hunker down and try to eke out as many days with her kids as possible, knowing she can be arrested and deported any minute?

Does she take them with her to a war-torn town, costing them the education and opportunities they’d have in their own country, in exchange for a childhood with their mother?

Or should she just keep her clean record, kiss her husband and kids goodbye and get on a plane Friday?

This is what she and her husband, German, talk about every night, after the girls are in bed.

He works construction, and he can get off early and pick them up every day after school, he offers. He already does the cooking, so that part won’t be hard. But, but. It’s all so hard.

Does any of this sound like our country to you?

I left their home the other day sad, but mostly furious. How can we tear apart good families like this one?

Catia Paz is not alone. There are 4 million parents like her who would have had a temporary, three-year reprieve with President Barack Obama’s 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans executive order.

“Felons, not families,” Obama said, explaining who would be deported and protected under his order. “Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

But no. It was challenged at the Supreme Court, and, in June, the Trump administration rescinded the executive order.

Now Paz must decide: Be a mother or a criminal? And we must decide: Who are we?”

**********************************************

Cowardly cruelty masquerading as “macho law enforcement” at DHS. This isn’t law enforcement. Every decent American should be ashamed both of our current broken immigration system and what DHS has become under Trump & Sessions. Every day of the Trump Administration diminishes America. By the time he and his cronies are done, our national conscience will be so small “you could drown it in a teacup.”

PWS

10-09-17

 

PETULA DVORAK IN THE WashPost: Forget The Administration’s Fear-Mongering — There Are Many Amazing Kids In Our Midst Seeking Survival & A Chance To Contribute! These Are The Kids I Met In Immigration Court — And I Am Still Moved & Inspired By What Many Of Them Have Achieved & Their Potential!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/theyve-survived-untold-horrors-undocumented-teens-dont-deserve-to-be-demonized/2017/03/27/518dcebe-09b5-11e7-a15f-a58d4a988474_story.html?hpid=hp_regional-hp-cards_rhp-card-columnists%3Ahomepage%2Fcard&utm_term=.346ab2350bee

Petula Dvorak writes in her regular local column in the Washington Post:

“Their dreams — to become a lawyer, an interior decorator, a sailor in the Navy — are a lot like the dreams that other kids at their Maryland high school have.

It’s their nightmares — seeing relatives killed, paying off coyotes, being raped at the border, spending weeks in a detention center, being homeless in a new country — that make them so different.

“They’ve survived untold horrors,” said Alicia Wilson, the executive director at La Clinica Del Pueblo, which is working with Northwestern High School to help these teenagers.

The Hyattsville school has absorbed dozens of these students — part of a wave of more than 150,000 kids who have crossed the U.S. border over the past three years fleeing violence in Central America.

We usually hear about these young immigrants only when they’re accused of committing heinous crimes — such as the two undocumented students charged with raping a 14-year-old classmate in a bathroom at Rockville High School. Or when they become victims of heinous crimes — such as Damaris Reyes Rivas, 15, whose mother wanted to protect her from MS-13 in El Salvador but lost her to the gang in Maryland.

In country with a growing compassion deficit, plenty of people resent these kids, demonizing them along with other undocumented immigrants. But I wish those folks got to spend the time with them that I did. They’re funny, vulnerable, hard-working and stunningly resilient.”

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Exactly what I found  in more than a decade as a trial judge at the Arlington Immigration Court. The young people were among the most memorable of the thousands of lives that passed through my courtroom. “Funny, vulnerable, hard-working and stunningly resilient,” yes they were all of those things. To that, I would add smart, courageous, talented, motivated, and caring.

Many appeared at the first Master Calendar speaking only a few words of English. By the time the second Master rolled around (often 9-12 months on my overcrowded docket) they were basically fluent.  And, they often were assisting others in the family to understand the system, as well as taking on major family responsibilities with parents or guardians holding down two, or sometimes three jobs.

I checked their grades and urged/cajoled them to turn the Cs into Bs and the Bs into As. Many brought their report cards to the next haring to show me that they had done it.

I recognized the many athletes, musicians, chess players, science clubbers, and artists who were representing their schools. But, I also recognized those who were contributing by helping at home, the church, with younger siblings, etc.

Just lots of very impressive young people who had managed to put incredible pain, suffering, and uncertainty largely behind them in an effort to succeed and fit in with an strange new environment. They just wanted a chance to live in relative safety and security and to be able to lead productive, meaningful lives, contributing to society. Pretty much the same things that most off us want for ourselves and our loved ones.

More often than not, with the help of talented, caring attorneys, many of them serving in a pro bono capacity, and kind, considerate Assistant Chief Counsel we were able to fit them into “the system” in a variety of ways. Not always, But, most of the time. Those who got to stay were always grateful, gracious, and appreciative.

Even those we had to turn away I hope left with something of value — perhaps an education — and the feeling that they had been treated fairly and with respect, that I had carefully listened and considered their claim to stay, and that I had explained, to the best of my ability, in understandable language, why I couldn’t help them. Being a U.S. Immigration Judge was not an easy job.

Overall, I felt very inspired when I could play a positive role in the lives of these fine young people. “Building America’s future, one life at a time, one case at a time,” as I used to say.

PWS

03/28/17

 

Fears Grow Among U.S. Civil Servants In The Face of Overt Hostility and Disrespect From Incoming Administration And Congress — In Bizarre Twist, U.S. Government Threatens To Attack And Dismember Itself! Who Will Be Left To Carry Out Deportations, Bust Druggies, Or Support The Military? Not Everything Can Be “Outsourced” To Your Buddies!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/fear-among-federal-workers-flourishes-as-they-face-a-hostile-trump-presidency/2017/01/09/7bf558fc-d67a-11e6-9f9f-5cdb4b7f8dd7_story.html?utm_term=.6708ec49824e&wpisrc=nl_buzz&wpmm=1

Petula Dvorak writes in her local column in the Washington Post:

“This workforce that’s supposedly as bloated and unwieldy as the Sta Puft Marshmallow Man? It was about the same size in 1950. (You know, around the time so many folks think America was great?)

It also has been slowly shrinking and is now a little smaller than it was under Ronald Reagan.

So let’s stop pretending that this hostility toward federal workers is about cost-cutting.

Trump already has promised a huge building up of the military — at least 500,000 more in the Army alone. So money is not something that the federal government is looking to save.

This new Washington (or New York on the Potomac) has plenty of plans for our taxpayer dollars.

Trump is promising lots of nonmilitary jobs.

There’s The Wall! Imagine the work that’s going to create.

Construction workers, managers to deal with thousands of miles of worksite along the U.S.-Mexico border, paper pushers to get all the materials sorted and the laborers paid. Of course, that money will probably wind up going to private contractors, the guys who command $500 billion in taxpayer money every year, but aren’t counted as part of the federal workforce.

Maybe The Wall isn’t going to cost U.S. taxpayers anything because the workers aren’t really going to get paid. Just ask the guys at Magnolia Plumbing D.C. or AES Electric in Laurel, Md.

There’s also the promised deportation of about 3 million to 4 million undocumented immigrants. Imagine the federal workers required for that effort, given the current backlog of 500,000 deportation cases.”

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I have previously blogged about the unprecedented (at least during my 43+ years in Washington) hostility toward Federal career civil servants being promised by the Trump Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-5A

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-4O

PWS

01/09/17