Thanks to donations from Fordham Law alumni and students, the Feerick Center for Social Justice raised over $200,000 during its Fifth Annual FriendRaiser, held virtually on April 13. The center exceeded its original goal of $100,000 and unlocked a generous $50,000 matching gift from an anonymous donor.
The funds will be used to support the center’s work with law students and partners to assist and advocate for asylum seekers in its Immigrant Justice Project. Specific initiatives include continuing to improve access to legal information for women detained with children in Dilley, Texas, with Proyecto Dilley; helping to build capacity to reach and serve asylum seekers placed in Migration Protection Protocols (MPP); pursuing remote limited-scope pro bono opportunities to serve asylum seekers during the ongoing pandemic; engaging in fact-finding efforts; and organizing educational webinars for the Fordham Law School community and beyond.
“Because of COVID, the Feerick Center, its partners, and other service providers … at the border have had to pivot and provide assistance to asylum seekers in new and different ways,” said Dora Galacatos, executive director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice. “This includes bringing essential and accurate information to those at the border about ever changing conditions and evolving U.S. policy including printing and disseminating postcards at Mexican ports of entry and welcome centers in the United States.”
This year, immigrants rights advocates Shalyn Fluharty and Cindy Woods spoke at the virtual event, providing on-the-ground accounts of what’s been happening in Dilley and at the US-Mexico border. Fluharty is the director of Proyecto Dilley and the Asylum Defense Project and Woods is the managing attorney with Proyecto de Ayuda para Solicitantes de Asilo, a project of the Asylum Defense Project that has focused on serving asylum seekers placed in MPP.
Differences in Administrations’ Immigration Policies
In a discussion with Karuna Patel, moderator and deputy director of the Feerick Center, Fluharty and Woods explained how the policies implemented by the former administration negatively impacted work being done at the border, as well as in family residential centers located in Texas and Pennsylvania.
Fluharty noted that 99 percent of Proyecto Dilley’s cases received positive decisions during the Obama administration. Clients, she said, were released from detention in less than 30 days and traveled to family members within a community where they would begin their immigration case in front of an immigration court.
However, the Trump administration changed many of these policies in the summer of 2019. Clients were denied requests to reschedule interviews, and asylum officers were replaced with Customs and Border Patrol agents without appropriate supervision or training, according to Fluharty.
“What that meant is that the percentage of families that received positive decisions went from more than 99 percent to less than 10 percent, by our calculations,” Fluharty said. “Those statistics are difficult and rough because we couldn’t even access families.”
“When we would access them, it would be when they would come by the hundreds back to meet with us with negative decisions, asking for help in front of the immigration judge,” she added. “It changed the entire climate of what was happening in Dilley in a very, very substantial way.”
Woods also said less than 2 percent of those in MPP were able to acquire any legal representation while in the program. This, she noted, happened because many U.S. service providers were unable or unwilling to cross into Mexico due to being unlicensed to practice law in the country or due to safety concerns.
Woods also explained that although 70,000 people are still in MPP, the Biden administration has begun to wind down the program and has begun to process individuals with active cases.
“To date, I believe that number is in the thousands of individuals who have been processed,” she said. “In Laredo, they opened processing a few weeks ago and they’ve already processed around 400 individuals.”
A “Paramount” Partnership with Fordham Law
Fluharty said partnering with the Feerick Center has been “paramount” amid the pandemic. Proyecto Dilley was able to develop lessons learned and best practices for its remote legal service in coordination with the center—figuring how to best integrate volunteer support and ensuring clients could continue to receive access to needed legal services.
Now, Proyecto Dilley is working with the center to develop new technology that will allow the staff to provide Know-Your-Rights presentations through a telephone number accessible to detained individuals when they cannot physically meet with a lawyer.
“There have been so many times when I have picked up the phone and spoken with Dora and have had Dora tell me, ‘Shalyn, you’ve got to think bigger,’ ‘You need to think smaller,’ or ‘Shalyn, we can do it,'” Fluharty said. “Those conversations have been pivotal because what I think Dora has been able to communicate really effectively to me, is that we are not alone in Dilley.”
In a similar vein, Woods said the Feerick Center has been critical with helping the issues at hand.
“We’re tackling huge issues with not many legal service providers on the ground to handle that,” Woods said. “Being able to work off of the experience that the Feerick Center, Shay, andwe at Dilley have built around both in-person volunteers and also remote volunteer access, has been tremendously rewarding and important for our organization.”
The Feerick Center looks forward to organizing more educational webinars, which will highlight emerging issues as the Biden administration implements its immigration and border policies, and continuing to work with Proyecto Dilley and other partners on essential access-to-justice initiatives on behalf of asylum seekers.