Monday, September 24, 2007

NWIRP Honors IFAP, Ramasastry

At the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project's annual gala on Saturday, NWIRP gave its amicus award to Prof. Anita Ramasastry for her work as the faculty coordinator for the UW's Immigrant Families Advocacy Project. (See the law school's press release, Sept. 13.)

Since 1996 IFAP's law students teamed with pro bono attorneys have been helping immigrant women and children who are the victims of domestic violence. Each year, about 50 law students (many of them 1Ls) volunteer to help the women navigate the immigration system and take advantage of the laws that permit them to retain their immigration status even if they leave the abusive partners who may have enabled them to immigrate in the first place.

Attorneys who will commit to taking one case during the year can take the upcoming IFAP CLE (Oct. 26) for the cost of materials ($25).

The NWIRP dinner is always inspirational. One speaker was a client who told his story of coming to the U.S. from Congo and seeking asylum. Immigration officials handcuffed him and put him in detention. He remarked wryly that he wanted protection and they gave him "maximum protection." He was denied asylum and lost hope. But a NWIRP volunteer attorney from K&L Gates told him he could appeal and took the case. He lost the appeal. He lost another appeal. But NWIRP posted a bond for him so he could be released from the detention center and, eventually, he was granted residency.

The violation of immigration laws is considered civil rather than criminal, so the people facing deportation don't have a right to counsel. There are no public defenders for immigration cases. So most of the thousands of people who face proceedings in our state each year do so alone. NWIRP's staff and volunteers do incredibly valuable work, representing immigrants and providing legal orientation sessions to those detained at the Northwest Detention Center. (This year, the detention center's capacity went up to 1000 beds. It is at capacity.)

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