Fighting for the Rights of Immigrant Detainees

Following its second victory, the Harvard Immigration Project’s (HIP) Bond Hearing Project continues its new campaign to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants seeking release from immigration custody. The project’s purpose is to both educate students and serve the immigrant community.

At both hearings, teams of HLS students, led by Bond Hearing Project co-directors Tanika Vigil ’14 and Carol Wang ’13, represented immigrant clients who were detained at Suffolk County House of Correction.

Some immigrants in detention facilities are eligible for release and may begranted bond by a judge, though many immigration detainees are unable to afford legal representation. Under the direction of supervising attorney Phil Torrey, the Bond Hearing Project teams of four to five students provide the free representation necessary to gain the release of immigrants from detention.

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In December the Bond Hearing Project represented their second client, a middle-aged man from Guatemala caught in a hotel immigration raid in New Hampshire. The client fled Guatemala after being shot through the neck and witnessing the murder of his nephew. He was working long hours in the United States to send money home to his ill father, who was financially unable to pay for his own medications. With no prior criminal record, the client was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during their search for a different individual. The student team for the second case was led by Brett Heeger ‘14, oralist on the case, Carol Wang ‘13, Tanika Vigil ‘14, and Marie Nelson ‘14.

After gathering evidence directly from the client and various community members, the team’s argument succeeded and the client was able to post bond, which was raised in a campaign led by his friends and fellow church members.

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Unlike the second case, the Bond Hearing Project’s first client had some minor, non-violent criminal convictions. The team’s first client was an immigrant from El Salvador who was arrested in Portland, Maine on criminal trespass charges; the client was sent to the immigration detention center at the Suffolk County House of Correction in mid-August. The client was working at the docks processing lobster, and living in a shelter while sending most of his earnings home to support his family.

The team who worked on that case included Kendall Bass ’14, Betsey Boutelle ’14, Marie Nelson ’14, Tanika Vigil ’14 and Carol Wang ’13.

After first contact, the team had two weeks to gather proof that their client was not a danger to the community, a flight risk, or a threat to national security. “It was a total blitz to try to find evidence to get [him] bond,” Torrey said. On the day of the hearing, after considering the collected police reports, docket sheets, and oral arguments from the team’s representative, Carol Wang, and the ICE attorney, the judge agreed to set a bond amount, which allowed their client to be released from detention.

Bond Hearing Project co-directors Vigil and Wang found that the student team worked very well together, the results “a reflection of how persistent we’ve been, and how committed we were,” Vigil said. The investigative effort put forth by the team was its key to success, Wang said, as they were very well prepared at the hearing and able to successfully answer questions from the judge and respond to counter-arguments from the ICE attorney.

Wang said a successful bond hearing is extremely valuable to immigrant detainees because it frees them from detention, which allows them more time to properly develop their claims for immigration protection within the United States.

The representation offered by the Bond Hearing Project seeks to push back against “a conceptualization of immigrant detainees as a criminal portion of our population who deserve to be locked up without the possibility of bond,” Vigil said.

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The work of the Bond Hearing Project is important not only to the immigrant community, but also to the HLS students involved.

“Immigration law cuts across many levels of the legal world and having a very active and productive community of people who are interested and excited in working in this field has the opportunity to be useful both to Boston and the law school community,” Heeger said.

According to Torrey, HIP and other student practice organizations (known as SPOs) are great opportunities for students to experience hands-on casework and supplement the work of existing HLS clinics. SPOs, like HIP, allow first-year students, who are not yet eligible for enrollment in a clinic, to begin learning valuable legal skills, such as interviewing a client and presenting an argument in court.  These skills can then be developed in greater depth when students take advantage of the myriad clinical opportunities at HLS following their first year.

“You can do all of this, and even as a first year law student, really have the opportunity to help someone,” Heeger said.

Vigil added that the Bond Hearing Project and other HIP projects are valuable because they ground the law school experience: “You put in a lot, but you get so much more out of it in terms of finding your motivation and direction, and getting back to why we decided to come to law school in the first place.”

For more information about the Bond Hearing Project and other projects of the Harvard Immigration Project, please visit http://www3.law.harvard.edu/orgs/hip/

For comprehensive reports on this issue that thoroughly brief the everyday reality for immigrants in detention centers and provide extensive facts and statistics, please visit the ACLU’s repository on their website. We also welcome any and all comments or questions both here and on our Facebook page.

Thank you to the Harvard College student interns who conducted interviews and drafted this article over the past few months – Joanne Wong and Victoria Fydrych.

3 thoughts on “Fighting for the Rights of Immigrant Detainees

  1. thnks to HLS and the students who represents to inmigrants. The hispanic inmigrants just want job and a better life for their families.
    Thanks for your help and god bless you

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