Center for Immigration Defense

The Center for Immigration Defense

As one of Oregon’s leading nonprofit social service agencies, Catholic Charities is feeling the effects of local and statewide detainments and deportations. Calls from individuals and families seeking immigration legal services have spiked to an average of 550 per month since February 2017, far outweighing our capacity to respond to each individual’s unique set of circumstances. Our Immigration Legal Services team’s current ability to assume new cases and/or offer case management services averages just under 25 per month, while the number of cases we have had to refer out to other legal service agencies has doubled to an average of 60 per month.

Increased arrests, detentions, and deportations are already well underway across the state, with steady increases in deportation arrests from this time last year, and a doubling in the number of arrests of undocumented individuals without criminal records. The toxic effect of this increased enforcement activity has fundamentally altered daily life in immigrant communities throughout Oregon and threatens the health and well-being of millions of families. Particularly in mixed-status families in which one or both parents are undocumented and some, or all, of the children are U.S. citizens, the continual and unrelenting threat of deportation that will rip a family apart is causing a real and costly public health crisis. Mental health and education professionals are reporting sharp increases in trauma and stress symptoms in children of undocumented parents and in undocumented children themselves. Many children are not attending school and many adults are afraid to leave their homes. Additionally, the threat of large-scale family separation and repatriation to dangerous situations has caused a grave sense of hopelessness and fear in many Latino communities.

Rosalina’s Story

Courtesy Pamplin Media

On February 14, 2017, Rosalina made her husband Roman, the family’s breadwinner, a cup of coffee before he left for work at 6:50 am in route to work near Sandy, Oregon. Roman was arrested by ICE agents and sent to the Northwest Immigration Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. Roman does not have a criminal record aside from an offense related to his entering the country illegally.

Since the arrest, Rosalina has been afraid to leave her house. She said she is crippled by uncertainty and worried she will be arrested too. This would leave no one to care for their five children.

To read their family’s story, click here.

“Roman’s arrest illustrates the expanding categories of undocumented immigrants federal officials are targeting for arrest and deportation” – Oregon Public Broadcasting

USCCB Position

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opposes “enforcement only” immigration policies and supports comprehensive immigration reform. In Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the U.S. Catholic Bishops outlined the elements of their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. These include:

Earned Legalization: An earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence. Such a program would create an eventual path to citizenship, requiring applicants to complete and pass background checks, pay a fine, and establish eligibility for resident status to participate in the program. Such a program would help stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population “out of the shadows,” as members of their communities.

Future Worker Program: A worker program to permit foreign‐born workers to enter the country safely and legally would help reduce illegal immigration and the loss of life in the American desert. Any program should include workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers, and family unity.

Family‐based Immigration Reform: It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family‐based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in family‐based immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times.

Restoration of Due Process Rights: Due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) should be restored. For example, the three and ten year bars to reentry should be eliminated.

Addressing Root Causes: Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as under‐development and poverty in sending countries, and seek long‐term solutions. The antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.

Enforcement: The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.

Migration and Refugee Services/Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

August 2013

What Has Changed?

Executive Order 13768, signed by President Trump on January 25, 2017 called for the following:

  • Massive expansion of the arrest and detention of undocumented immigrants
  • Effectively erasing previous priority categories for enforcement.

Under the new order, all undocumented individuals, including parents and caretakers without criminal histories and with deep ties to their communities, are at risk of arrest, detainment, and deportation.

Catholic Charities is committed to ensuring that families are not separated.

Negative Impact on Families & Children

Across the country, since January 2017:

  • Approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrants have been detained.
  • This is roughly a 40% increase over the same time period last year.

The number of arrests involving undocumented individuals without criminal histories has doubled.

Oregon is home to:

  • 391,200 immigrants
  • 192,000 Oregon children are immigrants
    • 62,000 children have at least one undocumented immigrant parent
    • 49,000 children are US citizens
In Oregon, 3 out 4 children born to undocumented immigrant parents were born on US soil, making them US citizens. 

Why Removal Defense is Critical

For immigrants facing detainment and possible removal from the United States, the process involves appearing before a judge in immigration court. Even though an immigrant may be jailed for years, separated from their family, and sent to a country where their life could be in danger, there are no constitutional rights to an attorney in immigration proceedings. Immigrants who cannot afford to pay someone to represent them must navigate this complex process alone.

The average cost of removal defense services for immigrants is $10,000.

Due to economic reasons, most immigrants do not obtain removal defense representation. For immigrants who have no other criminal records aside from entering the country illegally, legal representation is the single most important factor in determining whether they will win or lose their case.

Immigrants with access to legal counsel while in custody are four times more likely to be released from detention than their unrepresented counterparts.

Detained immigrants with counsel are almost 11 times more likely to access relief options (i.e. asylum, removal cancellations) than those without representation.

In non-detained cases, immigrants with legal representation are five times more likely to win their cases than those without representation.

The detainment and removal of thousands of immigrants is having a devastating impact on families and communities, including the economy, mental health, family unity, academic performance, community health, etc. Parents’ legal vulnerability, detention and deportation are strongly associated with depression, anxiety, fears of separation, social isolation, aggression, withdrawal and negative academic consequences among children.

Catholic Charities’ Approach

Access to legal services to immigrant families facing separation is extremely limited. Retaining a private immigration attorney for representation in removal proceedings can cost tens of thousands of dollars. As such, access to high-quality removal defense representation is usually far out of reach for the average immigrant family living in Oregon. Nationally, only 14% of detained immigrants are able to secure legal representation. While private attorneys or local non-profits may take the occasional removal case pro bono, there is currently no organization in the Portland area that offers pro bono or low-cost removal defense services on a full-time basis. Access to low-cost and pro bono legal services are essential for immigrant families facing increased risk of deportation. By providing access to these services, we increase the likelihood of an individual not being deported while considerably lowering the risk of family separation and the subsequent exposure to trauma.

With the launch of the Center for Immigration Defense, Catholic Charities will immediately add removal defense legal services to the portfolio of services our Immigration Legal Services’ team offers. The Center will provide legal protections for immigrants who are unable to afford attorneys and will ensure safeguards for vulnerable mixed-status families when detainment and deportation becomes a real threat. One full-time lawyer and one full-time legal assistant will be dedicated to providing clients with representation; outreach and education; and development, management and coordination of comprehensive pro bono activities.  Please join us in making this possible.

Give to the Center for Immigration Defense

Without the generosity of donors, Catholic Charities would not be able to support the critical services offered by the new Center for Immigration Defense. The support of our community is instrumental in the success of all of our clients. Thank you for investing in this important work!

To make a gift to the Center for Immigration Defense by mail, send your check to the following address:

Catholic Charities
Attention: Development
2740 SE Powell Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97202

Click below to make an online gift.

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