Volunteers Help Immigrants in Immigration Court

(ESPAÑOL) More reports arise of immigrants in immigration court being assisted by volunteers. Whether they have been around for a while or are a new occurrence due to the political climate, more attention has been centered recently on hundreds of volunteers, including preachers, law students and retirees, who have accompanied immigrants to immigration court and help them with their legal issues.

Whether it is more attention or more participation, there has been a rise in volunteering directly caused by the new presidential administration’s policies on immigration, including arresting suspected undocumented immigrants in courthouses and the recent attempted or alleged deportations of DACA recipients, undocumented immigrants brought over as juveniles and granted a reprieve from deportation due to their unique circumstances.

Specifically, the volunteer groups cite situations where ICE has been arresting suspected individuals while they undergo their routine check-ins with ICE, although the agency itself said it did not have national statistics on how often these arrests occur.

In New York, the nonprofit New Sanctuary Coalition said one of its volunteers was with Colombian immigrant Juan Vivares last month when he was arrested during his check-in. The group helped organize a news conference to publicize the arrest. Vivares, who is from Medellin and was arrested because his asylum request had been denied, was released two weeks later after his lawyer requested a stay of the order of deportation.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which calls for tougher immigration controls, takes the opposite view. “A judge is supposed to make a decision based on the rule of law, not based on how many people show up,” spokesman Ira Melham said.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, several groups have started accompanying immigrants to courts to make sure their rights aren’t violated.

“These days, politicians are using ICE as a military force to carry out a fear campaign within our own borders,” said George Lujan, from the SouthWest Organizing Project. “So not only does the accompaniment program keep our courts working, it also brings people together and gives them an alternative to living in fear.”