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December 21, 2023

Quarterly eNewsletter

December 2023

Letter from the Director

IJP’s work has been more important than ever this year. Our team took on the responsibility this spring of answering hundreds of calls from across the border, as the Title 42 ended, the border re-opened, and Biden’s asylum ban went into effect. As a result, we represented dozens of asylum seekers in credible fear interviews, immigration judge review hearings, and requests for release from custody—most of whom were detained in a large Customs and Border Protection tent near the border. We are grateful to San Diego County’s Immigrant Rights Legal Defense Program for supporting IJP as we ventured into this new area of legal advocacy, and I am grateful to everyone at IJP who had to rearrange schedules, shift priorities, and learn while doing this difficult and crucial work. 

All the while, we continued our core programming for detained immigrants and asylum seekers who are facing removal before the immigration courts. The IJP team provided legal orientation to hundreds of detained immigrants and asylum seekers, to families facing removal, and even to people who had been given notices to appear in immigration court but whose cases were still not registered in the court’s system. Our attorneys won numerous dismissals and terminations of removal cases facing our clients, as well as earning huge victories at both the appellate and trial levels. Three IJP attorneys presented their first oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this year, one of our paralegals earned accreditation to represent clients before the immigration courts, and even some of our summer law student fellows were able to argue successfully for clients’ release from custody! We have so, so many reasons to be grateful.

Personally, I write to you during my parental leave, as my wife and I welcomed our second child this month, and I am grateful to IJP’s Deputy Director Amanda Bernardo for acting as Director in my absence. At a time when many feel hopeless about the future, my family’s decision to bring a child into this world is an act infused with hope. All of these things for which I am grateful are the things that give me that hope — the dedication, support, love, generosity, community, and pure human kindness that are constant in the San Diego immigrants’ rights community and here at IJP. Reader, I thank you for your generosity and support. Let us all enter this new year full of ideas about how to leave this world better than we found it, full of the drive to do what needs to be done, and full of the spirit to carry us through the challenges ahead. Let us all enter this new year full of hope. 

Warmly,

Lauren Cusitello 
Director, ABA Immigration Justice Project

A Visit to the Border

By Crystal Felix, IJP Managing Attorney

In December, I visited two Open Air Detention Sites in Jacumba, CA to donate blankets and warm jackets to the migrants being held by Border Patrol. There are three separate sites in Jacumba where Border Patrol collects and drops migrants: Willows, Moon, and Tower 177. Border Patrol generally segregates the migrants based on country of origin. Willows was mostly migrants from China and Moon consisted mostly of migrants from Brazil and Colombia. 

When I arrived at Willows, Border Patrol was lining migrants up for processing. The Border Patrol gave the migrants potato sacks for their belongings – making sure no one had access to their phones. Despite arriving with the volunteers to give warm meals to the migrants in the camps, we could not give warm food to the folks already lined up by Border Patrol because they aren’t allowed to take food or drinks with them.  

Migrants can stay up to three days without access to shelter, food, or water. Volunteers have been providing for basic needs as much as possible. These sites are in the United States and the government does not provide the migrants anything - arguing that they are not detained and free to leave. However, if they leave, they will be arrested and likely detained. Migrants are left at the Open-Air Detention sites without information about what is going on or how long they will be there. 

The situation is deeply concerning—but through my visit I was able to see all the humanity- not provided by the U.S. government but by the volunteers and fellow migrants. The migrants were sharing their makeshift tents with each other, translating for one another, taking off warm clothes to give to women and children, playing soccer and games with the kids. These migrants come fleeing their home countries – after an undoubtedly dangerous journey – only to be left out in the freezing temperatures, with no guidance, nor basic necessities. Despite this- the migrants were grateful to be safe because they had now escaped their persecutors and were waiting to seek protections here in the United States.  

IJP’s 15th Anniversary Celebration

By Lauren Cusitello, Director

In this season of gratitude, we here at IJP have so many reasons to be grateful. On November 9, we celebrated IJP’s Crystal Anniversary, recognizing 15 years of service to the immigrant and refugee community in San Diego. That celebration, and IJP’s work, would not be possible without the support of the American Bar Association Commission on Immigration, and we were lucky to have COI Director Meredith Linsky join us for that special evening. We are incredibly thankful for the community of supporters who surrounded us that night and who have sustained this work for all these years.