Over the past decade, immigrant communities in the U.S. have been subjected to an increasing range of systematic human rights violations, including arrest without warrants, incarceration without bail, and deportation without regard to humanitarian factors. Many of those deported have been in the United States since early childhood, and many leave behind spouses, children, parents, and other family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Many have not had the benefit of legal counsel in their removal proceedings, and have not had the opportunity to pursue all available avenues of relief. Yet once they have left the country, deportees are generally barred from reopening their removal proceedings, and many are barred for life from returning to the U.S.
The Post-Deportation Human Rights Project (PDHRP), based at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College, offers a novel and multi-tiered approach to the problem of harsh and unlawful deportations from the United States. It is the first and only legal advocacy project in the country to systematically undertake the representation of individuals who have been deported from the United States.
The PDHRP aims to conceptualize an entirely new area of law, providing direct representation to individuals who have been deported and promoting the rights of deportees and their family members through research, legal and policy analysis, media advocacy, training programs, and participatory action research. Our ultimate goal is to introduce legal predictability, proportionality, compassion, and respect for family unity into the deportation laws and policies of this country.
We are working to achieve these strategic objectives through the following activities:
- Bringing test cases in the federal courts to establish the right of deportees to reopen their cases from abroad: For example, where the conviction that formed the basis of a deportation has since been vacated, or where serious legal errors occurred in removal proceedings. We are currently litigating cases in the First, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits.
- Representing deportees in waiver petitions to return to the United States: We have developed innovative legal arguments regarding the eligibility of deportees to obtain waivers to return to the United States, and we are currently representing several individuals who are seeking to return on a temporary or permanent basis.
- Documenting examples of unlawful deportations of United States citizens and permanent residents: These examples will form the basis for an upcoming report analyzing the systemic problems that contribute to errors in removal proceedings and the legal obstacles that deportees face in obtaining justice once they have left the U.S. In February 2008, PDHRP Supervising Attorney Rachel Rosenbloom testified on this subject before the Immigration Subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives.
- Conducting an interdisciplinary study of the effects of deportation on families and children: This participatory action research project is directed by professors of psychology and social work, in collaboration with community groups Organización Maya K'iche in New Bedford, Massachusetts (site of a recent large-scale immigration raid) and Centro Presente in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Advocating new federal regulations to structure the exercise of discretion with regard to deportees seeking to return to the U.S.
- Developing an interactive website for deportees and their family members.
- Drafting practice advisories on post-removal issues for immigration practitioners.
- Speaking to the press and in a variety of academic and policy forums to raise public awareness about deportation and post-deportation issues.
The PDHRP has been formally endorsed by the American Bar Association, and has established working relationships with the Immigrant Defense Project, the American Immigration Law Foundation, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Families for Freedom, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations focusing on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. We are also collaborating on participatory action research with a number of community-based organizations in and around Boston, including English for Action, Casa El Salvador, and Women Encouraging Empowerment, Inc., and have established connections with non-governmental organizations in Central America, Haiti, and Cambodia.
The PDHRP is directed by Boston College Law Professor Daniel Kanstroom, author of Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History (Harvard University Press, 2007), and builds upon Prof. Kanstroom’s decades of experience defending immigrants in deportation hearings, training law students, and devising new legal strategies for addressing increasingly harsh and rigid deportation laws. Legal work is overseen by Prof. Kanstroom and Supervising Attorney Aimee Mayer-Salins, with assistance from Boston College law students. The participatory action research project is directed by Prof. M. Brinton Lykes of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.