AILA Presents Mitra Ebadolahi and James Duff Lyall with the 2016 Arthur C. Helton Memorial Human Rights Award

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) will award Mitra Ebadolahi and James Duff Lyall of the ACLU Border Litigation Project with the 2016 Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award for outstanding service in advancing the cause of human rights. Ms. Ebadolahi and Mr. Lyall will accept the award this week during AILA's Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV.

Founded in 2013 with grants from Price Philanthropies and the CAMMINA Foundation, the ACLU's Border Litigation Project was designed to investigate, document, and litigate civil and human rights abuses in the U.S.-Mexico border region. The Project was created in response to a growing awareness of a lack of accountability for abuses committed by government officials in the southwest border region, particularly by the U.S. Border Patrol.

While the Border Litigation Project works closely with and relies upon the expertise of numerous ACLU offices, allies, and community members, it has only two employees, both staff attorneys: Mitra Ebadolahi, based in San Diego, and James Duff Lyall, based in Tucson. Ms. Ebadolahi, who naturalized in 2000, is a 2008 graduate of New York University School of Law. Following graduation, she clerked for Judge Margaret M. Morrow (C.D. Cal.), completed a thesis-based LL.M. in International Legal Studies, and clerked for Judge Betty B. Fletcher (9th Cir.). Since 2015, she has also served as a Lecturer-in-Law at University of California, Irvine School of Law, teaching seminars on Constitutional rights at the border, as well as race and the criminal justice system, and lecturing on immigration law and the Constitutional rights of noncitizens.

James Duff Lyall is a 2007 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, where he also completed a certificate program in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. He went on to work at the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles, where he provided pro bono legal representation to detained immigrants and unaccompanied immigrant children in removal proceedings. Prior to joining the ACLU in 2011, he spent a summer in the Sonoran Desert with the Tucson-based humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths, where he co-authored a report on Border Patrol abuses.

Since its inception in 2013, the Border Litigation Project has achieved important victories that have improved due process and other constitutional protections for vulnerable border residents, including undocumented immigrants in particular, and has helped to shine light on government abuse of citizens and noncitizens alike. Working in close collaboration with local communities and colleagues across the country, the Project has participated in the development and litigation of multiple groundbreaking lawsuits, including two major class actions. In Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson, a class action challenging coerced administrative removals in Southern California, the Project secured a favorable settlement with DHS, which has allowed the reunification of more than 100 families and established extensive systemic reforms to the process of so-called "voluntary returns" in Southern California. In Doe v. Johnson, the Project, along with the American Immigration Council and other immigrants' rights groups, filed a class-action lawsuit-the first of its kind-challenging conditions in CBP's notorious detention facilities, commonly known as the "hieleras" ("ice boxes"). In early 2016, the district court certified a class consisting of all detainees who-now, or in the future-are held overnight in a CBP facility within the Tucson Sector. The Project is also co-counsel in Rodriguez v. Swartz, a federal lawsuit over the unjustified cross-border shooting death of a Mexican teenager in Nogales, Mexico, by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Arizona.

To counter CBP's lack of transparency, the Border Litigation Project has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits. Ms. Ebadolahi and Mr. Lyall are currently litigating FOIA requests for records relating to Border Patrol's interior enforcement operations in Southern California and Arizona, and for records relating to the widespread abuse of children in Border Patrol custody. In addition to litigation, the Project has undertaken a wide range of advocacy efforts, filing administrative complaints with oversight agencies, commenting on proposed legislation, authoring practice advisories and "Know Your Rights" materials, and meeting regularly with policymakers, community members, and advocates.

In three years, the Project has helped to elevate human rights issues in the border region to an extent that has empowered local communities, deterred abuses, reframed the toxic discourse on U.S. border enforcement, and laid the groundwork for future victories.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 16062032.