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I am currently writing a 20 week series prepping clients who are studying for the citizenship test.  Each week I will discuss five of the 100 potential test questions with the correct answer and a brief explanation.

We proudly serve immigrant clients from Virginia and North Carolina, including Surry, Stokes, Wilkes, Yadkin, Alleghany, Ashe, Forsyth, Rockingham, Guilford, Carroll, Grayson, Galax, Patrick, Pulaski, Wythe, Smyth, and Floyd Counties. We also serve criminal clients from Surry County, North Carolina.

The Immigration Prison Industrial Complex

Holly Wilcox

Almost exactly two years ago, I spent Spring Break with five other law students and our fearless leader, Professor Heather Scavone, at Karnes County Residential Center about an hour outside of San Antonio, Texas.  Karnes has been referred to as "baby jail".  It is a detention facility for women and children (yes, children) caught crossing the border, most of whom are fleeing unfathomable gang-related and domestic violence in Central America.  

These women and children are treated as inmates.  There are bars on the windows and locks on their cell doors.  The only "crime" they have been charged with is attempting to enter the United States without documentation.  While the children have the opportunity to attend on-site "school", their mothers are not allowed to leave the facility, and face months of boredom with nothing to occupy their thoughts other than the prospect of a better life in the United States or the horror of the life they left behind. 

Working on asylum applications and country conditions reports at Raices after a long day at Karnes

Working on asylum applications and country conditions reports at Raices after a long day at Karnes

We worked at a non-profit organization called Raices, which provides pro bono legal representation in immigration court for immigrants detained when crossing the US/Mexico border.  Our team helped draft bond motions and prepare asylum cases for women who had already spent months in the detention facility with no access to legal representation.  Raices is a fantastic organization that partners with pro bono attorneys from all across the country to try and satisfy the overwhelming need for legal help in South Texas.  

As attorneys, we were subjected to intense security screening before we were allowed to enter the facility.  We arrived on site at promptly 8 a.m. to make the most of our limited time with our clients.  However, upon arrival, we learned that there was a "no re-entry" policy at the center.  If attorneys wanted to leave for lunch, they weren't allowed back in to continue working and interviewing clients in the afternoon.  We had limited time in Texas, and had to sacrifice our own comfort for the good of our clients.  We weren't allowed to bring food in to the facility, so my brave comrades and I endured up to 14 hour days with nothing to eat as we vigorously interviewed clients and drafted supporting documents for their cases.  When we needed to use the restroom, we were forced to use a single stall toilet with no lock on the door -- even attorneys had no privacy.  Additionally, our bags were inspected for anything that may be construed as a gift for the detainees.  We had hoped to take the children toys, crayons, etc, but were prevented from bringing anything other than legal necessities.  The best I could do for the children I interacted with was give them my set of colored pens to draw on legal pads.

Our team finally leaving after a 14 hour day of work at Karnes

Our team finally leaving after a 14 hour day of work at Karnes

While at Karnes, we learned about the horrific "hileras" ("icebox" in Spanish), which are Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) holding cells for immigrants caught crossing the border before they are transferred to an ICE detention center.  Immigrants sometimes spend days in hileras before they are processed out.  The hileras are single room cells where immigrants and their children have no privacy, and are kept so cold (around 50 degrees) that babies and children turn purple.  We heard stories of mothers separated from newborn babies who needed medical care at a hospital in San Antonio; the mothers weren't allowed to accompany their children, and were forced to sit and wait in Karnes, anxiously wondering what was going on.  We heard stories of women who attempted suicide, because the stress of staying in a detention center, combined with the hopelessness they felt, was too much to bear.  With a choice between voluntarily returning to a country where they would almost certainly be killed, or remaining in immigration prison indefinitely, they were in despair.

The women and children we met at Karnes suffered unthinkable harm in their home countries: rape, extreme domestic violence, and gang violence are rampant in Central America.  One of our clients had smuggled out a video of her relative's brutal murder on a SD card, which was taken into evidence and placed in a locker she was unable to access at Karnes.  Many women fled because their children were subjected to forced recruitment into the drug cartels.  If these women and children had suffered this way in any other country in the world, they would be designated as refugees.  Incarcerating them is not only inhumane; it is a national embarrassment.  

"Detention Quotas"

In 2009, Congress appropriated a line into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Budget that has become known as the "detention quota".  This line item mandates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a sub-agency within DHS, fill over 33,000 beds each night in immigration detention facilities nationwide.  That number has since increased to over 34,000.  ICE currently lists 112 detention centers on their website, with plans to construct more nationwide.  Over 60% of these centers are privately managed.  These facilities include places like Karnes, which houses immigrants caught attempting to cross the border, and also places like Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, which houses immigrants awaiting a court hearing or removal from the United States after living here for a while.  

Prisons are funded by taxpayer dollars.  The difference between government run and private prisons, though, is that private prisons make a profit off of the government and those incarcerated.  According to the numbers from 2013 (which are the latest available), the average cost per day of adult immigration detention was $124.  For a family, that number was $343.  So, if there is a mandated quota of 34,000 beds that must be filled, multiplied by even just $100 a day, the United States government is spending over 3.4 million dollars on immigrant detention daily.  

Karnes is owned by GEO Group.  We're only smiling in this photo because we were leaving on our last day.

Karnes is owned by GEO Group.  We're only smiling in this photo because we were leaving on our last day.

There are two private corporations that own the majority of these detention facilities: CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group.  GEO Group is currently involved in a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit in which inmates at the Aurora, Colorado detention center allege that they were forced to work at the facility for no wages in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws.  

GEO Group and CoreCivic are raking in the cash.  The US government is paying them millions of dollars a day to house immigrants, and these corporations want to keep it that way.  Both companies spend millions of dollars a year lobbying Congress.  In 2014, CoreCivic alone comprised 61% of the total federal prison lobby, and these resources were directed at DHS for immigration detention.  

Detention in the Trump Era

At the time we worked at Karnes, our team was appalled that the Obama administration was not only allowing such a barbaric practice as family detention to not only exist, but to grow.  Now, though, in a Trump presidency, immigrant detention is likely to expand exponentially.  As I've discussed in previous blog posts, President Trump has done away with the Obama-era "priority" system and now intends to enforce deportation orders against any undocumented person, regardless of his or her criminal record. 

Stocks for the two major private prison companies have surged since November, as investors see the potential for expansion of immigrant detention.  It is expected that men, women, and children who have lived in the United States for significant periods of time will be detained in the coming months due to the change in immigration policy under President Trump.  Additionally, families caught at the border are less likely to be released on their own recognizance to appear in court at a later date, and will be held pending a hearing for months or years.  This just means that more detention facilities will be built, and more federal tax dollars will be spent lining the pockets of GEO Group and CoreCivic executives.

Beyond the economic impact of immigrant detention on the American taxpayer, it should be obvious by the end of this blog post that there is an enormous human cost as well.  It is not only emotionally and psychologically difficult for immigrants and their families to survive in immigration detention, it can also affect the outcome of their cases.  As I learned at Karnes, immigrants in detention have limited and sometimes no access to attorneys, and immigrants without representation are much less likely to succeed in front of an immigration judge. 

Immigration detention is a horrific practice, and private corporations are profiting off of families fleeing extreme violence and poverty, as well as your friends and neighbors who are just trying to make a better life in America.  If you're interested in learning more or getting involved, I've linked some great resources below.  Or, as always, feel free to contact my office.  

  • Grassroots Leadership, a civil and human rights organization based in Austin, Texas dedicated to ending prison profiteering 
  • The ACLU reports on immigration detention and strives to protect the rights of incarcerated immigrants 
  • The American Immigration Council is a non-profit that promotes fair and equal immigration law and policy  
  • The Detention Watch Network is a nationwide organization that advocates for change in immigration detention 

New Deportation Enforcement Policies

Holly Wilcox

President Trump has had his fair share of controversies in his first month in office, but arguably the most talked about issue of his administration so far is immigration.  

This continued on Monday when the Department of Homeland Security issued two policy memos on "Protecting the Homeland."  These memos describe how President Trump's immigration policy will be implemented.  You may remember that President Trump issued three Executive Orders back in January regarding immigration and border security.  One of these orders was the controversial "Muslim Ban", but two of the orders discussed border security at the US/Mexico border and deportation of undocumented immigrants present in the United States.  

The Department of Homeland Security is tasked with carrying out these new immigration policies.  You can read their memos, as well as the underlying executive orders, by clicking here.   

I wanted to write a blog post explaining these memos, but instead decided to post this wonderful podcast dedicated to this issue.  "The Daily" is a New York Times podcast giving a 15-20 minute summary of the news of the day.  Their episode today focuses on the potential for detention and removal of undocumented immigrants in the aftermath of these memos.  The first half of this podcast is particularly useful, and concisely summarizes the key points.  Take a listen below: 

The key takeaway here is that anyone who is undocumented (with the limited exception of those individuals who have DACA status) is now considered an enforcement priority and could be removed from the United States at any time, regardless of whether they have committed a crime.  

This is a scary time for immigrants, as well as United States citizens who know and love their immigrant friends.  If you have questions about any of the recent memos, or would like to discuss how to prepare yourself and your family in case you are subject to removal, feel free to contact my office.  

Also, don't forget to subscribe below for updates about immigration policy changes in the future.  

Citizenship Civics Test Prep: Week 20!

Holly Wilcox

I can't believe after 20 weeks, this is the last week of this blog series!  I hope you have all learned a lot about US government and civics and feel well prepared for the citizenship test.  Keep in mind that there will only be 10 questions on your test, and you only have to get 6 of those questions correct in order to pass.  You never know which 10 questions out of this list of 100 will be asked, though, so you need to be prepared to answer all of them. 

Question 96: Name two national U.S. holidays.

Answers: (a) New Year's Day; (b) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; (c) President's Day; (d) Memorial Day; (e) Independence Day; (f) Labor Day; (g) Columbus Day; (h) Veteran's Day; (i) Thanksgiving; (j) Christmas

Keep in mind you only have to provide two of these answers to get this question correct. 

These answers are pretty straightforward.  On US federal holidays, non-essential federal offices are closed, such as the post office, court systems, administrative offices, etc.  Additionally, many private sector offices are closed on these holidays, such as banks.  Sometimes state governments are closed on these days as well, including public schools.  

Question 97: What are two rights of everyone living in the United States? 

Answers: (a) freedom of expression; (b) freedom of speech; (c) freedom of assembly; (d) freedom to petition the government; (e) freedom of religion; (f) the right to bear arms

Keep in mind you only have to provide two of these answers to get this question correct.

A) Freedom of expression is essentially the same thing as freedom of speech, although it sometimes refers to expression in other ways than speech, such as what clothes you wear, what signs you put outside your house, etc.  

B) This is a 1st Amendment freedom -- people in the United States can speak freely about any subject without fear of being punished by the government.  Freedom of speech covers both spoken and written words.  

C) This freedom is also included in the 1st Amendment.  It means you can meet in groups to discuss any subject you want.  

D) This freedom is included in the 1st Amendment.  You have the right to sign your name on a petition and let Congress know how you feel about a certain issue. 

E) This right has come up a few times now in citizenship questions.  Freedom of religion in the United States is two-fold: you have the right to practice whatever religion you want, and you also have the right not to be forced by the state to practice any religion.

F) The right to bear arms is included in the 2nd Amendment, and it means you have the right to own weapons.  There has been a lot of debate about which weapons are included in this right -- and this debate is still much talked about today.  Gun control is a major issue facing politicians at the federal and state level.

Question 98: What is the name of the national anthem? 

Answer: The Star-Spangled Banner

The lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet, who witnessed a navy battle between the United States and the British during the War of 1812.  He was inspired by the American flag, prominently waving above the ships as a sign of the American victory.  

The Star-Spangled Banner has officially been our national anthem since 1931.  

Question 99: What do we show loyalty to when we say the Pledge of Allegiance? 

Answer: the United States; the flag

The Pledge of Allegiance is a formal expression of allegiance to the United States used to open government events.  It is said at the beginning of Congressional sessions, public school days, local government meetings, and some sporting events.  The Supreme Court ruled that students cannot be compelled to recite the pledge, but most citizens do as a sign of respect for the flag and the country that provides us all so any opportunities.  

Question 100: What is one promise you make when you become a US citizen? 

Answer: (a) give up loyalty to other countries; (b) defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States; (c) obey the laws of the United States; (d) serve in the US military if needed; (e) serve (do important work for) the nation (if needed); (f) be loyal to the United States 

Keep in mind you only have to provide one of these answer choices in order to get this question correct.  

A) Just because you are giving up loyalty to other countries doesn't mean you have to revoke your citizenship to those countries.  In general, most countries allow you to be a dual citizen with the United States (although there are some exceptions, like India).  

B) The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, which means it is the most important set of laws in the United States.  When you take the citizenship test, you swear to uphold the Constitution and defend it against people who would aim to act in a way contrary to it.  

C) You are bound to obey the laws of the Untied States whether or not you are a US citizen, but part of becoming a citizen is agreeing to obeying these laws.  This is why you are subject to background and criminal record checks when applying for citizenship -- you are obligated to follow the law if you want to live in the United States. 

D) As we've discussed before, men between ages 18 and 26 are required to register for the selective service.  If we go to war, the United States could theoretically reinstate a draft system, which could compel both men and women to serve in the United States military if needed.  When taking your citizenship oath, you're agreeing to serve in the armed forces if called.

E) This part of the oath means that you can take up non-military roles if needed to support the United States.  For example, you may be asked to perform civilian administrative duties to support the military, or you may be asked to support a war effort in other ways, lie

F) In your citizenship oath, you will promise to be loyal to the United States -- which means that you want this country to be the best it can be and you don't want to do anything to harm the United States or the people in it.  

 

Just because this series is over doesn't mean I'm done blogging here!  Please remember to subscribe below to keep updated about all things immigration.  I'll be commenting on changes in the law, immigration in the news, and tips for immigrants and US citizens alike, so you'll want to stay in the know! 

Also, please contact us if you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your immigration options, including applying for citizenship!