Sounder SIGN UP FOR FREE
The PA Politics Podcast
The PA Politics Podcast

Episode 23 · 2 years ago

The PA Politics Podcast: Episode 23 - The Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Today we're chatting with PAIFUP lawyer Lilah Thompson and her client J, who will share some of his story and talk about why this program is so essential to immigrants in Pennsylvania, and the dramatic impact that having a pro bono lawyer can have on the life of an immigrant. 

Hello everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the PA politics podcast. It has been a minute, but we are back today talking with a few folks from pief up, the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project. This project's mission is to offer free legal counseling and services to immigrants to help keep them united with their families and for whom removal from the US could put them in serious danger. We're talking today with Lilah Thompson and her client J who will share some of his story and talk about why this program is so essential to immigrants in Pennsylvania and the dramatic impact that having a probona lawyer can have on the life of an immigrant. They'll also talk about the importance of restoring funding for the organization and it's programs amidst budget cuts and a season of uncertainty. As always, I'm your host, Christina and Damigo. This podcast is brought to you by Bellevue Strategies, your twenty one century government relations, advocacy and strategic communications firm. And with that, let's get chatting with live on Jay. Okay, so why love? The start, can you tell me a little bit more about yourself and what led you to work for Pie up. Yeah, so I went to school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and so college and Lacas to Pnsylvania and when I was there I started working with refugees, the refuge community there, and that was really the experience that pushed me to understand how important it is for immigrants to be able to exercise their rights, and that is what led me to go to law school. And so I went to law school knowing that I wanted to represent people, represent immigrants in their proceedings before immigration courts and then be able to assist people protecting the sanctity of their life in some much challenging circumstances. And I've always wanted to do work with individuals who are detained, but I didn't have that opportunity until I started working as a Pennsylvanian immigrant family unity of project attorney. I'm and so prior to that I did lots of other work in immigration and when I found out about this job, this was the thing that I was sort of waiting for for a really long time, because it's the most important thing, in my opinion, to provide individuals who are detained with legal representation. We do it in the criminal system and just because immigration is civil, we don't provide that option to people even though they're detained as well. And Universal Representation is for individuals who can't afford an attorney but wish to exercise their rights that they're do is one of the things that I think really changes the game for people. I mean we see the results of people who don't have lawyers versus people who do have layers. I was actually a clerk at the immigration court before I started this job and I saw all the time the difference it makes for someone to have a lawyer versus not have a lawyer. Is just outstanding, and ...

...so that is why I chose to do this job and to work for the pipe up program, the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project as a staff attorney, to be able to assist people who I think are in sort of bad circumstances, being detained and not having anyone to advocate for them or having to pay sort of high, high costs to do that when their liberty is at stake. So, in terms of pipe up as an organization, how do you go about finding prospective clients? Yeah, so the great thing about the pipe up program is that the only questions that we really ask are do you have enough money to afford an attorney? Do you have an attorney, and do you have enough money to afford an attorney? And if the answer to those are no, it's very similar to the public defender model, and so we go into detention facilities and we screen people to find out the answer to those questions. We don't look at whether their case is winnable or their case is not winnable or anything like that. We only go to be able to help people where they're at, and so we screen individuals and for a small program right now there's a couple of lawyers working really, really hard, but the goal is that we have that model for the entire state of Pennsylvania, so it's so that every single person who is detained an immigration detention can have an attorney. And so we start off now primarily representing people from Philadelphia, and so we go when we screen people, find out whether they need an attorney and whether they can afford an attorney, and then we represent those people. We find out all the details about their life, what possible ways we could allow for them to fight their case and be able to stay in the states so that we are keeping families together. I'm in keeping people to getting people back to their homes. Absolutely. Can you, and Jay, tell me a little bit about your case and where you're at with it right now? Yeah, so I'll get a little background and then I think the Jay has a lot to say about his case. But basically, I met Jay a little bit before he was supposed to have what's called a meritarian and individual merits hearing on his case to decide whether he would be sent back to the place that had persecuted him, and we worked really, really quickly to to put the case on and throughout that process we realize that the government had actually need a mistake. Sometimes that half this happens. It doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen to some people. Some people are charged by the government as deportable and they just aren't, and so we were able to catch that in Jay's case before it led to him being sent back to a country where he would have been harmed, and I'm sure he can say a lot more about that, so I'll let him. I'll let him do that, all right. I own. Regards to my case, I was apprehended December nine of the last year. Everything was moving really fast. At the time I...

...was I decided I was I have to go pro sed because a lot lack of resources, no money to afford enough lawyer before I could, before I heard about Lylan and everyone else, I was when I was in curs rate, I was doing a whole bunch of research trying to find certain stuff to help myself. One in particular I found out to get one of my charges dismissed, which was a successful one. When the when the time was almost close for the merry hearing, I met Lila, which was like it was funny because when immigrants to get apprehended and sent to the tension facilities, they get a list right with numbers and stuff of pro Bono lawyers, and, fun me, Lila's office was on there and I had everyone at home call these guys and, you know, went back to the computer on a whole bunch of research in there. And when the time was almost done and I could seem like it was almost lost, I met Lila and then everything just started working for the better, and then she ended up finding a whole bunch of stuff that could help me Ay more than how I was going to go about it. I mean and not only did it cause me to not get my green card, revolt also caused me to stay or be at my family and my charges are no longer the portable. So that was a great thing. Yeah, and I think one of the things with Jay's case that's so great is that, you know, as I was saying, the government does make mistakes sometimes and and his case they they made a mistake and once we were able to point that out to them and and, you know, advocate for Jay's rights, that's when they actually agreed with us and decided that he shouldn't he shouldn't be charged as to portable, and so that's a really great outcome, because he would have had to sort of make the case that he shouldn't have to be sent back to a country where he feared persecution and a place that he left because of persecution. And so it was. It was it was amazing to, you know, have be able to talk to his family. They were so excited when we got the case thrown out, basically, and now he just gets to return to his family and live his life. And this happened right actually before the COVID pandemic hit. So I visited Jay right before they sort of putting all the limitations on the detention facilities and even when I went there, the last time that I saw him in detension, they were, you know, testing our temperatures and things like that. But since he's left a lot of people at this facility have gotten covid. It's one of the facilities that sort of had a lot of exposure and positive, positive covid results. But Luckily we were able to get him out before...

...he was exposed to any of that and that is just, I think, so important because being in detention during a pandemic it's extremely scary. Absolutely Yay. Can you speak a little bit about what your time in detention was like? Oh Man, so August first last year, on my way home from work, I got shot. All right, I was still in the process of recuperating, like reclevering life. I got I got a spinal cord injury and it caused me to have issues with my walking. So on December nine, when I got every ended, I was still on crutches. Uncomfortable like four hour rides at the detention center because it was all somewhere in in Tyke county. Once once I was there, it was it was stressful because not knowing if I was going to be able to go home to my family here was the main cause the PTSD that I was going through. I was deprived physical therapy at the jail because I don't know why they thought I'd be trying to escape. I can barely walk. Like agression officers would come and and they were and they would be the ones that's like assigned to your case and supposed to like help you with certain information. These guys that would come, they wouldn't help you with nothing, so you just be sitting in their loss. If you didn't like have a paid lawyer or a lawyer like Lyla to help you out with your keys, it would be really rough. Before I met Lilah, I knew like two individuals that was incarcerated, but one was in carcer for like four years and one was in cars rated for like six, still trying to fight their cases and immigration, and with a little bit of hope from those guys, I was able to get a little bit of understanding follow file certain people were in order to go through with my claim. At the time, I was trying to explain to the courts that I'm a homosexual. I was attacked really back home before I turned sixteen. It was bad for me because I put myself in arms way and my family. So I had to like stay away from my family justice nine order to Survive Pike County. It was it was just stressful period, especially with my injury. I was deprived a lot of things. I mean I was aprived going to work, like try and get a job there's in order to make some money at least. I couldn't work out because I was what they call the medical liability stuck on the block. I couldn't do anything. It's said to say, but I felt like I was in a racist area, you know I'm saying. And these CEO's and stuff, they weren't really they really care about...

...the immigrants. They only they only cared about the county. They only accommodated US immigrants there because ice Pye the facility to and it was a nine amount of money. So they didn't have the light up or a top or help us out. They just had accommodate us and make sure we weren't harmed or anything. It was actually the roughest three months of my life, be honest, because not being able to call home all the time. Folks out there not able to sustain themselves without you. You know, got Grand Nieces, I got a grand niece I never met. My father had had a son I never met at the time, and all that stuff took toll on it took a toll on me, and I was really never breaking down a little bit. But you know, I still try to persevere and try to do something, because I couldn't go out without a fight. Some people who couldn't afford the lawyer, especially majority of the Spanish guys. They barely spoke English and they didn't really knew like the steps to take in order to come across or do their own research to help them selves or give up, give themselves a chance to fight to stay here with their family. Majority of them gave up so much so easily because, like I said, their resources wasn't enough for a lawyer. Most of them didn't really understand it American judicial system, though. They just quit. I was in there with guys that never never got in any trouble, not not even a Dui, not even a cit tea, but there was like they missed two days for renewing their green car, they got apprehended. They didn't really know what the system was about. A signed voluntary the parts are not knowing. They could have fought and probably got a little leniency. You can probably try to apply for asylum. So that was my first goal to so I started the following process for convention against torture. What I did that I started getting more information, more information about other guys. How do you think it changes if someone has an attorney? Do you think they have a better shot at at winning something like their asylum case or getting out of detention and things like that? We think about that they have a they have a great chance with an attorney because you got to proof to back it up and you had someone that's legally able to reciprocate to the judge what you're trying to change. And because my majority of us we don't really know lawyer Lingo or legal lingo, we end up saying the wrong things and it messes our cases. Of you get I'm saying. So a lawyer is very vital and it's very important because not only will they be able to be or voice in the courtroom, they'd be able to explain and speak to the judge in a language or a manner that give be able to understand without any complications or any debate. How okay. How has having Hyla represent...

...you then? I mean, obviously it's been helpful, but where, where might you be without her and without pipe ups support? To be honest, I think if, if I will, if I I probably would have got deported or I probably would have still been sitting in there right now, because, you know, she showed me some things in regard to my case, like got like I said, I was in there dealing with a couple guys that knew a little bit about the law as well. They will be certain things we put up, brings together, we make this a fool proof playing or a way that the judge could even argue with it night. Is Very Awesome, man, because I know right now, if I not meant Lyla or her her team, I still probably being pipe. I think one of the things that we've learned through this program is that a lot of times people give up because they don't have an attorney to help them exercise their rights. And people have rights, but the process is very confusing and a lawyer is essential to help people be able to make the proper arguments before the immigration judges and be able to challenge the evidence in their case, and I think Jay's case is a really good example of that, which is identifying when the government has made a mistake. And you know, not everyone is like Jay and not everyone is able to sort of speak the same language as the people in detention and and talk to people and try and advocate for themselves. A lot of people don't have the background to do that or, you know, the language skills to be able to do something like that and there's so much that goes into presenting a case before the immigration court, getting witnesses, getting information, doing research on very complicated legal issues. It's hard and immigrants facing deportation do not have a right to a lawyer if they can't afford one, and it is essential that people have that because they are not able to fully exercise their rights otherwise. And people should have dignity in the process and lawyers are able to provide that by explaining a lot to them, explaining what their options are, what they might be available to apply for. I mean, yes, judges ask people if they're fearful of return, but so many people feel that it's hopeless to try and fight their case if they're going to have to be in detention for so long and they do end up just taking removal orders topportation orders. You lawyers are really essential and helping people be able to fully, fully exercise their right. So I want to I want to shift a little bit to talk about city government and how phifup fits in. So currently, hifup funding has been removed from Philadelphia's budget. What is going to be the immediate and the long term impact of losing this funding? Can either of you seek to what might happen if this funding goes away? I think you...

...know the Pennsylvani immigrant family unity product, the pipe up project, is a collaborative. It was started as a collaborative of local nonprofit organization supporting this idea of universal representation for detained immigrants facing deportation in Pennsylvania and our project is so grateful to the mayor and the leadership for launching this program last year. And the idea is, you know, with this funding, continued funding from the city and this becomes a model for the rest of the state and it's a public private partnership and the goal is to move it across the state so every person who is detained to can afford a lawyer in Pennsylvania who is an immigration detention gets an attorney and we are hoping that the leadership of the city continues because they've been the Philadelphia, the city of Philadelphia, has been so supportive to immigrants and and this grassroots effort, this collaborative between all these different organizations in primarily for Philadelphia but across the state of Pennsylvania. These are supporting immigrants and very challenging circumstances and Philadelphia has always been known for being a very immigrant friendly city and it's it's essential to be able to provide attorneys to to Philadelphias who so desperately need to have their rights protected while they're in immission detention. You know, it is a public private partnership, with the public aspect of it is so important because it shows the city's investment in this effort to families together and protect immigrants in in the spirit that is Philadelphia. Absolutely, okay, anything. God. All I can say is it is very important because without it, not only would it would I, but majority of us. It means that between an immigration proceedings, wouldn't be able to come home and start over and no be here with our families. There's guys that have no one back home, no one, not a mom, not a distant cousin back and they're homely and to get deported there where you have nobody and it's awful. So the the funding that you guys need is really important because not only does it help you guys, but it hops us as well. It gives you guys two resources and the things to come about to help the little guys like me. And of it it mads that don't really had the money to pay for a lawyer or which family can afford it right now because they got other stuff going on. Absolutely, and I think one of the other things too, is is something that Jay is touching on, which is that having a lawyer gives people dignity and fair process and everyone in facing deportation deserves a fair day in court. Even if you can't afford a lawyer. It should the outcomes should not be different just because one person has a lawyer and another person doesn't have a lawyer. That is not justice. Stable families, communities in the economy for individuals. So many people who are detained are the...

...are the main bread winners for their families and deportation defense. Like what pipe up does it it generates practical cost saving. So we help stabilized communities in the economies during difficult times by allowing people to return to their communities, return to their families, stabilized households, and it's a long term benefit for individuals, for families, for the local government. And pipe up is just a core component of Philadelphia's commitment to being a sanctuary city and the ask really is that the city continue with their commitment to immigrants as they have for so long. Yeah, absolutely. Why do you think that pro bono attorney, like, if you could say in a couple of sentences, like why are pro bono attorneys who you know can represent you? Why is that so important? Pro Boring attorneys that represent me and so important because they're genuine with their help. They're not they're not looking for they're not doing it for something like I mean that they're doing them that like an agenda, which you are anything. They're doing it because it really wants to see you better and come home and be with your family, just like there with their family, and they want you to be out here and happy and try to rehabilitate your life and start over and try to make right the mistakes that you've wronged. I'm saying they're their hair to literally give you a second chance with the help that they possessed to help you, because majority of us who has pro boning the lawyers very grateful because we're able to come home and make a difference. I'm able to come back home. I'm not all the way physically up to par with my walking and stuff, but I'm still able to do a little man will labor. I can at least go back out do a little with the work. Gets some money from my household again. You know I mean that way my family don't go struggled. So that's that's why it's so important to me, because they gave me the opportunity to come back and do right by my family. The funding that that we're asking for. In the last year we've been able to represent more than sixty people and been able to secure the release of so many and over half of those individuals, and we've formed an amazing collaborative across the seat of Pennsylvania between legal service providers and community based organizations to advocate for people like Jay and his family. And I just can't stress enough how how important it is to be able to bring people back to their families and be able to predict protect Philadelphians from being separated from their families and being able to help people, you know, start their life back up after being in attention for often months or even years, when individuals really just don't have a...

...way to advocate for themselves in the way that a lawyer can advocate for you in front of a court, and being that that legal first responder and sort of fight for someone's safety and dignity is one of the most rewarding experiences and it's essential for every single person who's going through the system. Well, why let Jay thank you guys so much for chatting with me. They're world awesome. Thank you for sharing your story, Jay, and thank you. Thank you guys so much. This is awesome. Thank you so much, Risina.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (26)