NWIRP is dedicated to the systemic change of immigration laws, and consequently dedicates significant resources to impact litigation. During the last decade we have positively affected many important cases with implications for national immigration laws.
To respond to the growth of immigration appeals at the Federal and Ninth District Courts, we increased our focus in this area by establishing a new legal unit in 2005. At any one time, the Impact Litigation Unit has several cases pending before the federal courts. NWIRP was invited by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to speak at a roundtable discussion on how to deal with the Circuit's large volume of immigration cases.
NWIRP Fights for the Rights of Families to Stay Together
NWIRP continues as lead counsel on a ninth circuit wide certified class fighting for the rights of family to stay together. The Ninth Circuit wide class certified by federal district court, which then granted class-wide injunctive relief. Gonzales v. U.S. Dept. of Homeland Sec., 239 F.R.D. 620 (W.D.Wash. 2006). The injunctive relief was subsequently vacated and proceedings were remanded by on the new rule established in Duran Gonzales v. Department of Homeland Sec., 508 F.3d 1227 (9th Cir. 2007). The case is now back before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to resolve whether the new rule should be applied retroactively to those who had already applied in reliance on the old rule. NWIRP presented oral arguments in San Francisco to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 21, 2011.
Federal District Court Grants Preliminary Injunctive Relief on Behalf of Detained Mentally Incompetent Persons In Removal Proceedings. Class Certification is Pending.Fol
In March of 2010, the ACLU and Public Counsel in Los Angeles filed suits in U.S. District Courts in Southern California on behalf of two men who, because of their profound mental disabilities, had spent years in immigration detention without legal assistance to fight their cases. They were released just days after the suit was filed.
The groups then obtained the assistance of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell and Mental Health Advocacy Services Inc., in moving to transform the case into a class action on behalf of detainees with mental disabilities. One of the new named plaintiffs is a refugee from the Ukraine, who is locked up at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). Two other proposed class members detained in the NWDC were granted relief and released shortly after being proposed as class members to the Court.
The lawsuit alleges federal officials have deprived these immigrants of their Constitutional right to due process and violated federal anti-discrimination laws designed to protect people with disabilities.
In a major decision, a U.S. district court has ruled that federal officials must provide representation for two men with severe mental disabilities while they fight their deportation cases, one of whom is detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. Franco-Gonzales v. Holder, -- F.Supp.2d --, 2010 WL 5874537 (C.D.Cal. Dec. 27, 2010). The Court granted preliminary injunctive relief for named plaintiffs, finding as a matter of first impression that mentally incompetent plaintiffs were entitled to reasonable accommodation of appointment of counsel, under the Rehabilitation Act. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee’s decision Wednesday also guarantees they must be afforded a bond hearing, when they are represented, to determine whether they should remain in detention.
“It defies any sense of justice to require a mentally incompetent person to stand alone against the government attorney and before the Immigration Judge.,” said Matt Adams, legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Fortunately, Judge Gee has agreed and is requiring a remedy for these named plaintiffs whos facing ongoing and imminent peril.” The decision will ensure these immigrants who are too mentally disabled and too poor to pay for lawyers get a fair hearing and are not simply locked up and forgotten.
A motion for class certification is currently pending that would provide relief for all detained persons in removal proceedings in Washington, California, and Arizona, who are unrepresented by counsel and suffer from mental health issues which may impair their ability to represent themselves in removal proceedings.
On any given day, some 37,000 immigrants are detained by immigration officials. While the exact number of detainees with severe mental disabilities is unclear, some reports estimate that at least two percent of the immigrants detained by immigration authorities nationwide – or 7,000 individuals – might have a serious mental disability. Unlike our nation’s criminal justice system, the immigration system has no standard procedures to resolve cases against detainees with mental disabilities who are not competent to understand the proceedings against them.
Federal District Court approves final settlement in national class action, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project v. USCIS, No. 88-379 (W.D. Wash.)
On September 9, 2008, the federal district court granted final approval to the settlement of the national class action, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project v. USCIS, No. 88-379 (W.D. Wash.). This settlement is a significant milestone - the lawsuit was filed in March 1988, over 20 years ago! This litigation successfully challenged the restrictive interpretations that INS assigned to a legalization program passed by Congress in 1986. The litigation defended the rights of thousands of persons to move forward with their applications for lawful residence, individuals who would have otherwise been found ineligible by INS.
Robert Pauw first jumped into defend the rights of applicants, back in 1987, when he was a staff attorney for LEAP (now known as NWIRP). Pauw worked with NWIRP until the end of 1993 when he joined together with Robert Gibbs, co-counsel in this action, to start up the law firm of Gibbs Houston Pauw. Upon completion of the settlement agreement Pauw explained, “this has been a battle that went on for over twenty years, but it has been worth it knowing that thousands of good people have been able to legalize their status and remain with their families here in our communities.”
The settlement allows individuals who have been living in the U.S. ever since January 1, 1982, but were initially unable to apply under the legalization program because of INSs interpretation regarding whether their unlawful status in the US was “known to the government”, to now move forward and submit their claim with the appropriate evidence. This is the final stage in litigation that has already opened up the process for thousands of individuals who would have otherwise been left in the shadows. Congress had determined that these were hardworking individuals supporting their families and making contributions to their communities that deserved an opportunity to obtain lawful permanent status in the United States. Congress stated that it would be inhumane to uproot these individuals from their communities and tear them apart from their families.
Lead counsel in the litigation include Robert Pauw and Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Houston Pauw, in Seattle; Peter Schey and Carlos Holguin, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, in Los Angeles. Numerous other counsel have been involved in the Long-running litigation. Read the Gibbs Houston Pauw press release and the final settlement agreement here.
Click here for a list of the published decisions in which NWIRP has prevailed.