HIRC at GBLS Defends Rights of Local Immigrants

John Willshire-Carrera and Nancy Kelly, Co-Managing Directors of HIRC at GBLS, with their students and colleagues, continue their work on behalf of asylees and immigrants. Rooted in Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), the largest legal services program in New England, the Clinic works “from the bottom up,” representing individuals and communities, as well as advocating for law reform on a broader scale. Over the years, the Clinic has responded to numerous important events, including backlash against immigrant communities in the aftermath of 9/11, TPS registrations, the 2007 New Bedford factory raid, and the DACA registration initiative started in 2012. Through this work, HIRC at GBLS strives to teach students how to provide high-quality legal services to individual clients while seeking to change the climate in which cases are adjudicated and targeting issues for broader law reform efforts.

HIRC at GBLS has represented clients in asylum, withholding and CAT cases, and cases involving other forms of relief at all levels – the Asylum Office, the Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Circuit Courts. These cases have often raised cutting-edge issues in asylum protection, including domestic violence and other gender-based harm, and harm inflicted based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as a basis for asylum, and the appropriate standard to be applied in evaluating asylum claims brought by children, including unaccompanied minors. Most recently, the Clinic is representing a number of children fleeing gang-related violence in Central America and indigenous individuals whose claims arise from the genocidal civil war in Guatemala.

The following are examples of some recent cases presented by HIRC at GBLS:

  • John, together with Joel Edman (JD’13) represented an indigenous Guatemalan man who was detained at the border and who remained detained by ICE for over a year and a half while pursuing a claim for withholding of removal. Felipe had suffered ongoing severe persecution until he fled Guatemala over ten years ago. After living in the U.S. for several years, he was denied asylum and removed to Guatemala. In Guatemala, he was brutally attacked again. Barely surviving the attack, he fled again to the US. After a long legal battle, which included a hearing before the Immigration Court, an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, a Motion to Reopen, and a second Immigration Court hearing, Mr. FX was finally granted withholding of removal and released from detention to join his family. He now lives and with his spouse, also a survivor of the Guatemalan genocide, and their children. The Clinic is now preparing to present the claims of his spouse and children, who entered separately also fleeing racist violence.
  • John, together with Maggie Morgan (JD’11) represented Juana, an indigenous Guatemalan woman, in a Motion to Reopen her removal proceedings in 2010. Juana was detained during the Michael Bianco factory raid in New Bedford and had not been able to fully present her claim for relief from removal at the time. She appealed her claim to the Board, which was subsequently dismissed. On the basis of new threats made against her activist parents in Guatemala, as well as to her through her parents, the Board reopened her claim. On March 26 of this year, a local Immigration Judge heard Juana’s claim and granted her asylum application. The claim was based on the extreme harm Juana faced as a child growing up in the midst of the genocide waged on her family and community by the Guatemalan army, the ongoing humiliation and racial mistreatment she suffered as an indigenous girl and young woman, and finally being targeted by a very abusive partner for domestic violence. Juana also testified at her hearing about the ongoing threats on her family who remain very active defenders of their indigenous community in the Department of Quiche, as well as her own political work in New Bedford as an advocate for the rights of indigenous women and indigenous activists in Guatemala. After hearing Juana’s testimony, the Judge granted her asylum based on past persecution.
  • Nancy, together with Jessie Harris (JD’13) and Elizabeth Nehrling (JD’14), represented a woman who, along with her infant daughter, suffered severe burns, and whose four year old son was killed, when a mob representing a rival political party set fire to her home in the wake of an election in Haiti. Nadine was recently interviewed by the Asylum Office regarding her claim, and we are awaiting a decision.
  • Nancy and John are currently representing a Guatemalan woman who was targeted by gang members because of her connection to her brother, who had deserted the gang and gone into hiding. Dina was initially denied asylum by the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. The First Circuit vacated the Board’s decision, finding that the gang-based harm described by Maria constituted persecution based on her membership in her family and therefore a basis for asylum.
  • Together with Deborah Anker, Nancy and John, participated in the preparation of an amicus brief in a case pending before the Ninth Circuit which raises the question of asylum based on political opinion for a child who organized against gang recruitment in El Salvador.
  • John and Nancy are currently representing an indigenous man from Guatemala in a case before the First Circuit which raises the question of harm inflicted during the Guatemalan genocide against the Mayans as past persecution based on race.
  • John and Nancy are currently representing a Salvadoran man who was threatened by gang members for his anti-gang organizing activities in a case before the First Circuit which raises the question of anti-gang organizing as an expression of political opinion.

Examples of other recent cases presented by HIRC include:

  • Numerous women from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras who were detained during the New Bedford raid after fleeing domestic violence, femicide and/or gang-related attack
  • Numerous cases indigenous women and men who survived genocidal attacks against the Mayan Community by the army and the civil patrols during the Guatemalan civil war.
  • Three ethnic Mayan brothers from a politically-prominent family in El Quiche, Guatemala
  • Several indigenous Guatemalans targeted in connection with the Rio Negro massacres in Guatemala
  • Numerous women from Africa fleeing gender based violence
  • A woman from Morocco fleeing domestic violence
  • A gay man from Brazil
  • A transgender woman from El Salvador
  • Several Ugandan political activists

Systemic work of the Clinic with immigrant communities in Massachusetts includes:

  • With a number of other offices and advocates, the Clinic responded to the call for representation and advocacy on behalf of the 361 immigrant factory workers detained during the 3/6/07 ICE raid of the Michael Bianca Factory in New Bedford. In addition to suing DHS in federal court, HIRC at GBLS has represented over 100 of the individual detainees. Seven years later, this work continues. Collaborating closely with Organization Maya K’iche in New Bedford, the Clinic has been able to gain permanent status for many of the individuals detained during the New Bedford raid and their families, and as assisted OMK in its efforts to seek justice within Guatemala.
  • Beginning in August of 2012, the Clinic joined forces with the Student Immigration Movement (SIM) in Massachusetts, to provide over 400 students people with legal support to file their DACA claims. At this time, plans are being finalized to begin providing legal support for those seeking to extend their DACA status.
  • HIRC at GBLS has worked closely with the Massachusetts Immigrant Advocacy Coalition over time, providing legal and organizing support on emerging issues of importance to the immigrant communities in Massachusetts. John Willshire currently serves at the Chair of the Board of MIRA. Recently Summer Moore-Estes (JD”13) began a fellowship working jointly with HIRC at GBLS and MIRA to both provide representation to clients and facilitate joint work between the two programs.
  • The Clinic regularly provides assistance and representation to Haitians, Salvadorans, and Hondurans applying for renewal of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
  • Work with CERJ and Organization Maya Quiche in Guatemala and New England to develop documentation of the targeting of Mayan indigenous communities in Guatemala (from Civil War to the present). Among other things, these resources are being used to document the claims of Clinic clients seeking protection from being removed to Guatemala.