#BlackLivesMatter – Perspectives from the AILA Diversity and Inclusion Committee
The AILA Diversity and Inclusion Committee is deeply saddened by the recent unjust and tragic police killings of Black Americans and we stand in solidarity for the demands for justice and accountability. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of those killed, including George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed and Breonna Taylor.
Our committee members have recognized the immense challenges which institutionalized and systemic racism and other injustices have had on our communities; and for many years we’ve worked on confronting and dismantling these systems of oppression. We stand together with #BlackLivesMatter against racism and other injustices that drive the hate, violence, employment discrimination, forms of social preference, and even subtle actions that continue to obstruct our goals of justice and equality. We are exhausted, but remain hopeful, as aptly described:
It leaves me frustrated and tired. I want to march. I want to scream “enough!” I want to cry. These are difficult times. But this is not the time to give up on justice. (Allen Orr)
As we continue our work, we must acknowledge our own complicity and privileges fueling the racism and injustices that Black people face. One particular discussion that is taking place within the Asian American community is the role they play in our nation’s racial divide:
The involvement of Officer Tou Thao in the killing of George Floyd brings forth a reconciling that Asian Americans need to have. (Trinh Tran)
Below are some perspectives from our committee members on the anger, frustration and unrest that our nation is currently experiencing, while communities of color continue to come to grips with the disproportionate negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our families and communities. As diverse immigration attorneys, we carry the weight of the personal impact that the coronavirus has had on our communities (a short list of examples include the elevated risk of COVID-19 infection and death for Black Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, as well as the more than 1700 hate incidents on Asian Americans), and also the burden of the mean-spirited and racist policies coming from the Trump administration negatively affecting the immigrant communities we represent:
The Trump Administration[‘s] policies—including refusing to release detainees, disallowing remote, video or telephonic access to the immigration courts and detainees, and continuing with the detained docket—clearly have a disproportionate and discriminatory effect on immigrant detainees. Additionally, these policies also affect their attorneys, many of whom are solo practitioners and are themselves members of minority communities. (John Pratt)
Personally, as a mother to a mixed race toddler, I want a better future for my child – one where his father or my child when he becomes a man isn’t stopped or threatened or even worse by the police because of the color of his skin. #BlackLivesMatter
Olivia Lee, Vice Chair of the AILA Diversity and Inclusion Committee
Frustrated and Tired But Hopeful
Tear gas in the air and the military on the ground in many US cities. Just when they thought they could see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, they discovered that light was illuminating the shame and hypocrisy of our great nation.
The history of this country follows a pattern of social unrest mixed with revolution and evolution. Every great social reform has come at a great cost to its advocates. Weary from the daily fight for the immigrant, my family from other lands, I must then also defend my own life.
It leaves me frustrated and tired. I want to march. I want to scream “enough!” I want to cry. These are difficult times. But this is not the time to give up on justice.
For me #BlackLivesMatter has always been personal. Even before the hashtag existed, fighting racism and defending black dignity is the reason that I became a lawyer. Growing up in the deep South, I had my first run-in with the police at the age of ten, for the crime of being a young black boy browsing in a store.
Amid these protests, I encourage AILA members to reflect on the reason you decided to become a lawyer. The fight of Black Americans in the US is not that different than that of many immigrants. It is the struggle to be seen and heard. It is the pursuit of the American dream and promise. It is the call for a justice system that provides equal protection.
As lawyers we are social engineers for the world we want to leave as a legacy. It is the time for introspection on how we are using our privilege and placement for the benefit of others. It is time for reflection on our footprint in the world and whether it leads toward justice, not just for our clients but for everyone.
What does it mean to say Black Lives Matter as an Asian American?
Representing asylum seekers and refugees, I hear my clients talk about America as a place of opportunity, freedom, equality. Where you can come with nothing and still have a chance to make something for yourself and your family – the American Dream. My clients speak of a place where their children can get an education, where they can be free from harm and become anything they want to be. As a first generation American, born in a refugee camp after my parents fled Vietnam and resettled in California, I’ve written my fair share of American Dream themed personal statements. It would be unfair (read ungrateful) for me to say that these ideals do not exist. More recently though, I think about the American Dream for Black Americans and it makes me feel both parts angry and guilty. Where is the opportunity, freedom, equality? What does it mean to say Black Lives Matter as an Asian American? To me, it is recognizing the systemic racism and injustice that is an everyday reality in the lives of Black people. It is also recognizing anti-Black racism and prejudice within the Asian American community.
The involvement of Officer Tou Thao in the killing of George Floyd brings forth a reconciling that Asian Americans need to have. Officer Thao may be seen as an “other” in relation to the White police officers, but he was still complicit in his inaction while George Floyd was pleading for his life. To make him distinct from the other officers is taking steps back towards building solidarity. More often than not, conversations about race seem to be about Blacks and Whites. Statistics about Asian Americans are referenced to illustrate the good immigrant, the “model minority.” Now more than ever, there must be a push back against the use of the model minority trope that pits communities of color against each other.
Freedom Leaving a homeland For stars and stripes of red, white and blue Stripes are lowered and a red star takes over Hands up Palms together Napalm down Hands tied Hands up The perpetual foreigner The perpetual agitator Broken bodies of war Bodies broken by war A war of bodies – black, brown, yellow Yellow peril Black peril White power He can’t breathe I can’t breathe We can’t breathe Free them Freedom Trinh Tran
The Trump Administration Continues Discriminatory Immigration Policies in the Time of COVID-19 –
The Trump administration has issued numerous immigration policies under the guise of helping the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in reality, those policy changes are the result of implicit bias and have had a disproportionate effect on minorities and people of color. This includes the closure of many offices and suspension of many services of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State consulates throughout the world, as well as several Presidential Proclamations purportedly in response to COVID-19, which announced travel bans, border closures, and stays of visa issuances. However, the most discriminatory of the COVID-19-related immigration policies is the decision to continue the mass incarceration of immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities across the country.
However, the discriminatory and cruel treatment of detainees in ICE detention centers is just a continuation of the decades of neglect and abuse of immigrant detainees at the hands of ICE. For decades, the conditions of ICE detention centers across the United States have led to the neglect, abuse, and deaths of detainees, most of which come from Central America, Mexico, Haiti, Latin America, and other countries around the world. There are countless examples of the devastating treatment immigrant detainees have faced in ICE detention centers over the past decades, but throughout my career, I have been personally involved in two cases that perfectly illustrate this point. In a lawsuit my firm and I conducted previously challenging the conditions of the ICE detention center in Falfurrias, Texas, it was revealed not only that detainees were not screened for medical issues, but also that officers confiscated medicines as ‘contraband.’ Additionally, over ten years ago I represented the uncle of the famous Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat in an affirmative asylum hearing at the Krome Detention Center in South Florida. ICE had confiscated Reverend Danticat’s medicines and, despite our efforts, he died next to me while attempting to conduct an asylum interview. His death was ruled as a result of preexisting medical conditions, even though he was sufficiently healthy when he was detained just a few days prior.
Unfortunately, ICE’s policies that have led to neglect, abuse, and death of detainees for decades have not slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they have only gotten worse. For example, in Gayle v. Meade, No. 20-21553-CIV-Cook/Goodman, a case being litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida with the help of AILA South Florida attorneys and the AILA South Florida Chapter, it became evident that ICE is willfully failing to meet minimum standards of care. ICE detention facilities in South Florida have failed to make any adjustments in response to COVID-19—including failing to even provide detainees with masks, soap, and other cleaning supplies—and continue to force detainees to live in inhumane conditions that make social distancing impossible. In her April 30, 2020 Order, Judge Cook stated that these and other COVID‑19-related failures “amount to cruel and unusual punishment” as they demonstrate ICE’s deliberate indifference. As a result, Judge Cook concluded that the conditions at the three South Florida detention facilities were violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The detained docket and detention facilities are virtually the only components of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that continue to operate without any appropriate policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump Administration has prioritized and allowed the deportation machinery of ICE and Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to continue unabated instead of protecting the health of detainees and their attorneys. Thus, these policies—including refusing to release detainees, disallowing remote, video or telephonic access to the immigration courts and detainees, and continuing with the detained docket—clearly have a disproportionate and discriminatory effect on immigrant detainees. Additionally, these policies also affect their attorneys, many of whom are solo practitioners and are themselves members of minority communities.
AILA, its leaders, and its members should exert all efforts to eliminate these policies and provide viable alternatives. The noble efforts in the federal courts, such as the Fraihat v. ICE and Gayle v. Meade litigations, are much-needed harbingers of change. The time is now to build upon these efforts and bring about permanent and widespread change in the detention policies and to ensure that the longstanding and pervasive abuse and neglect of immigrant detainees does not continue post-COVID-19.