Many thanks to The Advertiser-Tribune for reporting on a recent discussion about immigration issues hosted by the Sisters of St. Francis (published March 24). The sisters invited us as attorneys with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality to share information about ABLE's Migrant Farmworker and Immigration Program, which represents low-income agricultural workers throughout Ohio in civil matters.
The conversation focused on the struggle of immigrant families who have been affected by immigration detention. As reported in the article, frequently the primary wage-earners and caregivers are the ones detained for alleged violations of immigration law, taking a toll on the immigrants themselves, their families, their employers and their communities. While the Cleveland Immigration Court expedites the adjudication of detained cases for immigrants being held at Seneca County Jail, the process can take a very long time. In some situations, the process can take years. Readers of the article should also know that immigration law is a very complex area of law that changes regularly. In many circumstances, exceptions to the law outnumber the rule itself. People who are in need of immigration assistance should seek the advice of a competent immigration attorney.
Sadly for the community, the number of detained immigrants and immigrants threatened with deportation has increased in recent years. In northwest Ohio, many community members have noticed an especially high spike in enforcement with the opening of the U.S. Border Patrol office in Sandusky in 2009. ABLE, on behalf of named individuals and two organizational plaintiffs (the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Immigrant Worker Project) filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in 2009 against the U.S. Border Patrol office in Sandusky and three local police departments. The filed complaint alleges those entities illegally have profiled Latinos and targeted Latinos for immigration enforcement. The complaint also alleges this sort of conduct violates our U.S. Constitution, because individuals and families have been unlawfully stopped based on their perceived ethnicity. The case remains pending.
For individuals who think they have been profiled by the U.S. Border Patrol or local law enforcement agencies, we encourage them to apply for services through our Legal Aid Line by calling (888) 534-1432 or by visiting www.legalaidline.org. Again, we thank The Advertiser-Tribune, the 50-plus attendees and the Sisters of St. Francis for organizing such a wonderful opportunity for interesting and free-flowing dialogue.
Mark Heller, attorney-at-law,
Eugenio Mollo Jr., attorney-at-law,
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality