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Legal Aid Group Al Otro Lado Reacts To Changing Immigration Policies

VIDEO: Al Otro Lado On Immigration Case Rule Changes, Revoked Travel Documents, And The Secret Database Tracking Them

The legal director of Al Otro Lado talks about immigration and the Trump Administration.

The Trump Administration continues to change the rules about who can stay in the U.S. Al Otro Lado is a bi-national organization providing legal services on both sides of the border for deportees, migrants and refugees. Al Otro Lado's litigation director Erika Pinheiro spoke with KPBS anchor Ebone Monet about the current situation at the border.

Q: So recently the Trump administration expanded its rapid deportation policy, which gives immigration officers the authority to deport migrants without allowing them to see a judge. What's your reaction to this policy change?

A: So rapid deportation, or expedited removal, has always been part of immigration law. [It] was just usually applied to people who were apprehended at the border. So the policy changes—that process could be applied to anyone caught anywhere within the United States. The idea is if someone has been in the United States for more than two years, they should not be subject to this policy. However, the fact that you cannot see an immigration judge and that there is no judicial review of your removal means that time period doesn't really matter. There is not going to be anyone reviewing any documentation provided to immigration officials. We saw a recent case of an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was detained for almost a month by Customs and Border Protection, even though his mother went with an original U.S. birth certificate to immigration officials. That's a result of not having a judge review these removals. So the result is going to be that people of color, including U.S. citizens, will be deported in greater numbers without ever having access to a judge.

Q: Can we move on to a recently discovered database which was monitoring people who frequently cross the border, and this includes humanitarians and activists and journalists and even attorneys. Al Otro Lado has filed a lawsuit. What was your reaction to finding out that you were in the database?

A: I wasn't surprised, because my organization is the only bi-national organization at the California border providing services to both deportees and refugees. We've been the subject of harassment by both U.S. and Mexican officials in the past. Shortly before the list was leaked to the media, my co-director's SENTRI pass was revoked without explanation. So I wasn't surprised to find myself on that list. What the practical result has been is that my movement around the country and around the globe has been severely restricted. What I know is that I will be detained and deported if I tried to travel to any country outside the United States. I was able to get Mexico to waive the alert that the U.S. has placed on my passport. But as of today my co-director, Nora Phillips, who is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit we recently filed, has not been able to return to Mexico. She is the director of our deportee assistance program. So we have not been able to provide robust assistance to deportees since her expulsion from Mexico almost six months ago.


Q: So what do you think is the way the U.S. can do a better job of finding a balance between securing the border while allowing in asylum seekers?

A: The myth that we need to further secure the border has resulted in militarization at the border and racial profiling of both U.S. citizens and non-citizens of color. We do not need more border security. Border security equals violation of constitutional rights. Customs and Border Protection has jurisdiction within 100 miles of both a land and sea border. Two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within the zone and the Constitution does not apply. Customs and Border Protection, or Border Patrol, can search you without a warrant. They can go through your electronic devices without a warrant. They can detain you without access to an attorney. We don't need more border security. That's the first part.

For the people who are fleeing violence and persecution, the important thing to understand is that these rules don't stop them from fleeing. If it's a choice between dying in your home country and being detained indefinitely in the United States? They're going to choose being detained indefinitely. My clients who were separated from their children tell me: "I would do it again to save my child's life even though I was separated from them." No matter what this administration does to try to stop asylum seekers...if you're going to die in your home country, you're going to flee regardless. So all we're doing is treating people very cruelly who really need our help the most.