Some lawyers may find themselves perplexed when working with non-citizen clients. At NEXT Conference 2018, hosts Rob Mathis and Laurin Thomas break down some of the complexities of immigration law with Susan E. Reed, the Managing Attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC). Susan encourages lawyers to be educated on how immigration law relates to other areas of the law, and offers ways lawyers can partner with clients at MIRC. She feels that all lawyers, regardless of practice area, should be aware of the vulnerability of immigration law clients.
Susan E.Reed is Managing Attorney with the Michigan immigrant Rights Center, a legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018 Immigration Law
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away, ladies.
Robert Mathis: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am Robert Mathis along with Laurin Thomas from the State Bar of Michigan. We are sitting in today for your regular hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent.
We are live from the State Bar of Michigan’s NEXT Conference 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and joining us today I have Susan Reed from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Would you like to tell us a little more about yourself, Susan?
Susan E. Reed: Sure Rob. I am Managing Attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. We started our project; we are part of the Michigan Advocacy Program, but we started our Immigrant Rights Project 10 years ago with just me; we are now a staff of 25 throughout the state and we are a nonprofit legal resource center for immigrants and immigrant communities.
Robert Mathis: Excellent.
Laurin Thomas: Well, thanks Susan. We recognize that you are in a hotbed issue of the law right now and it affects so many other areas of the law. Can you tell us what family law practitioners need to know about immigration law?
Susan E. Reed: Well, embedded in your question Laurin really is the fact that if you are a noncitizen, being a noncitizen impacts virtually every other civil legal area, every one of your other civil legal rights, as well as your rights if you are convicted of a crime, but we really focus on civil.
Today I was with David Thronson, who is a Dean and Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law and Veronica Thronson, who is an Immigration Law Clinical Professor, presenting to the family law section, really just responding to the issues that we see arising in the family courts for immigrants and offering them some perspectives and tools for navigating them.
Robert Mathis: So what are some of the major issues that are facing family law practitioners?
Susan E. Reed: Well, so often there is just a sense of paralysis. It’s a complex area of the law and most immigration practitioners exclusively practice immigration and most general practitioners or family law practitioners don’t dabble in immigration at all. And so there is just a lot of hot potatoes that come up, right, when you have a custodial parent who may not have immigration status or you have a situation of domestic violence where threats of deportation are being used to intimidate one of the parties.
We see issues come up with respect to linguistic and cultural decisions about raising children. We see less so in domestic relations matters, but more in the probate courts. We see unaccompanied children’s issues arising, and so we really just try to offer our perspective as immigration practitioners.
And David, my colleague David Thronson, has really studied this from a family law perspective as well to sort of cool that hot potato and create a framework for thinking through yes, these immigration issues are important. Sometimes they are relevant, sometimes they are not, but they are never dispositive. We never say oh, well, that mom, her visa expired, so she can’t have custody because her visa expired. Again, it could be a factor in making a decision about custody or making a decision about placement, but only in the way that factors — the usual factors that family law judges are looking at are relevant.
Laurin Thomas: So I understand that there is now a judicial training program sponsored by the Michigan Judicial Institute. Is that because you end up having to educate the judges a lot about some of these areas?
Susan E. Reed: Well, these are hot potato issues for judges as well and Veronica and David and I have done a lot of judicial training together with MJI, the Michigan Judicial Institute, over the last few years. And I regularly get calls from judges saying I need some guidance, I need to know what to look at, I am trying to sort out. Again, the best metaphor is one of these hot potatoes has just popped into my hands.
And so we are really excited to be part of a national project. It is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and led by the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project at American University College of Law. We have a judicial training team of five Michigan State court judges who are part of a three year process to become peer mentors on these issues and be able to support their fellow judges in, again, cooling that hot potato, looking at the issue for what it is, not for what it isn’t.
Robert Mathis: So you are with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and Professors Thronson, Veronica and David, are with the MSU Immigration Clinic. Do you all take the same types of cases or is there a difference in the types of clients that you assist?
Susan E. Reed: Yeah, we do a huge variety of work within the immigration law at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. We really focus on the needs of low-income immigrants, but we handle both immigration law cases. So helping people get status or defending people who may be at risk of losing status.
But we also handle immigrant rights cases. So for example, we handled a large class action against the State of Michigan together with the Center for Civil Justice addressing misassignment of immigrants to emergency services, only Medicaid, immigrants with status who were eligible for full scope Medicaid. So again, intersection of immigration law and other civil legal areas.
The Immigration Clinic at MSU primarily does focus on immigration status cases and removal defense, but also with a focus on low-income folks as a law school clinic there, helping us help the most vulnerable people.
Robert Mathis: So how many attorneys would you say there are in Michigan that are helping the low-income population, like MIRC and the Immigration Clinic.
Susan E. Reed: Yeah. Well, at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, we are very active members of the Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. I would say statewide there are probably about, counting law school clinical staff, maybe 25 attorneys assisting low-income immigrants with immigration and immigrant rights issues, about 14 of them work with us, at MIRC. So we are a pretty small tight-knit group, those of us who focus on assisting low-income people.
But we have, as you know in your role, Rob, we have significant pro bono programs to expand that and create opportunities for both immigration practitioners and other attorneys to serve our clients; especially at this critical time when immigrant rights really are from my perspective as an advocate under siege.
Robert Mathis: So Susan, you mentioned that judges contact you with these hot potato issues. Do you see clients finding their way to you from referrals from judges or do clients apply for your services directly, or a combination?
Susan E. Reed: Sure, yeah. So we at MIRC, we run two intake lines. We have a general intake line that’s staffed out of our Ann Arbor office and then we have a shared intake line with Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan, focused on the needs of agricultural workers.
We every year distribute about 15,000 copies of our Farmworker calendar to agricultural workers in Michigan and do door-to-door visits of several hundred residences in temporary farm labor housing to make sure that ag workers know that we are there to support them with any employment related legal issues.
So far this year we have done more than 2,000 individual intake calls from immigrants calling our general intake line. Our intake has just increased exponentially. We are on the court referral list. We are, together with UD Mercy School of Law, the only service provider on the immigration court referral list.
And people are not entitled to counsel at government expense, even children are not entitled to counsel at government expense in deportation proceedings. And so representing immigrant children who are placed in foster care in Michigan has been a major area of growth in our practice and we represented every separated child brought to Michigan for custody in the family separation crisis this summer.
So our clients come to us in a lot of different ways. Sometimes referrals from state courts is one way, but primarily it’s through our relationships with immigrant community leaders and grassroots organizations that people find out about our services.
Robert Mathis: So you mentioned the pro bono attorneys assist you with your work. If I was an attorney and I was interested in volunteering with MIRC, who would I contact?
Susan E. Reed: Sure. Well, I mean if you were to visit our website michiganimmigrant.org, you would see all of our contact information. Just reach out to us; email is a great way to get started, but you could even call our intake line, which is right there at michiganimmigrant.org and get started chatting with one of our staff members who could connect folks with resources.
We have a lot of different pro bono opportunities and we recruit people on a rolling basis. You don’t have to wait for a training. We have a lot of recorded training. We do a lot of one-on-one mentoring.
So bear with us, there are times where the latest new shocking development seems to keep hitting either the front pages or the Supreme Court, so there are some times where we get a little behind bringing on our new pro bonos, but we’re always anxious for new volunteers.
Laurin Thomas: That’s a good segue into my next question which was with all the recent developments in immigration and in the laws and processes, how have you managed to keep up with what must be a significant uptick in your numbers?
Susan E. Reed: We have been able with the partnership of some great philanthropic partners to increase our staffing. We’ve also been grateful for individual donors who’ve allowed us to grow and sustain our staffing. It really is as well as a practical capacity challenge, a challenge to keep our staff motivated, not motivated, they’re extremely motivated. Keep them doing self-care and not burning out.
Many of our staff are from the very communities that we serve and it’s a personally really difficult time for our staff. They see the way the law which they care so much about and believe so deeply in is really being weaponized against their communities.
Rob Mathis: So going back to the pro bono opportunity, you said there’s a lot of different opportunities, what does the like time commitment range?
Susan E. Reed: Sure, well, we regularly have sort of one day short-term opportunities, come to a citizenship clinic and assist one client in completing a form over a two to three hour appointment. We also have opportunities to take on a case, particularly cases for survivors of domestic violence who can often file a self-petition and thus not be dependent on an abusive family member to carry forward the sponsorship process. Those cases, we can assign those cases and folks can handle them in their own office kind of over a few weeks or to prepare and then months to — in some cases years to finally get approved. So those are two of the ways that we do pro bono.
We also are always looking for support of larger firms who are able to support us with litigation when we are able to identify impact cases. So, I would say that the time commitment someone could make could be really anywhere from 3 hours to 300, but we can generally accommodate someone’s needs.
Rob Mathis: So, Susan, can you share with us, without revealing any confidential information, one of your favorite success stories?
Susan E. Reed: Oh, well, we had a client who came to Michigan through Bethany Christian Services Foster Care Program for Unaccompanied Minors. In that program historically in Michigan even when those kids turn 18 as long as they have not had any kind of criminal issue, they’re allowed to stay in the community and stay in the program. Bethany provides additional support to them. They’re not detained by immigration on the day they turn 18. That is actually not the case in a number of districts and the administration is pushing to change that so that children would be arrested the day they turn 18 after having been in the more appropriate forms of custody for minors, but this client he rode his bike the wrong way down a street and then when an officer stopped him about it he got scared and ran away and was arrested for fleeing an officer.
And our staff fought for 10 months to get him out of adult detention in the Calhoun County Jail and were able to get him released again and able to assist him in continuing to pursue asylum, and to me the idea that a young person could spend 10 months in jail essentially for riding his bicycle the wrong way down the street is everything that’s wrong with our system, but the way our staff worked for that client and got his path to asylum back on track in a way that never, never ever would have happened without counsel and wouldn’t have happened without the generosity of the people who support our work, because again, he wasn’t entitled to counsel is just thinking of the picture of his face when our staff took him to Subway on the day he was released from jail, and the positive future that he has ahead really makes our work worth it to me.
Rob Mathis: It was very strange. Susan, is there anything else you would like to share with us today about your work?
Susan E. Reed: I think it’s so important that all lawyers whether they practice immigration law or not pay close attention to the things that are happening to our clients. Some of the most fundamental values in the law, particularly the values of due process and equal protection are being attacked.
Due process in particular is being stripped out of the way that these immigration cases are adjudicated which in many ways lacked due process to begin with and I think that there is a responsibility on the part of all lawyers to tune in to the vulnerability of our clients and I’m grateful to the lawyers of the family law section for listening to and taking the time to understand our perspective as advocates this morning on how that relates to their practice.
Rob Mathis: Well, thank you. Before we close out this podcast I have one more question. If listeners want to follow up with you, what’s your contact information?
Susan E. Reed: Absolutely. We are online at michiganimmigrant.org. I of course I’m in the State Bar of Michigan Member Directory, but again michiganimmigrant.org and Facebook/Michigan Immigrant.
Rob Mathis: Well, that’s all the time we have for this program. Thank you Susan for joining us, and also a big thank you to Laurin from the State Bar of Michigan.
I also want to thank our listeners for tuning in. If you like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts.
I am Robert Mathis. We will see you next time for another episode of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network.
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