Immigrant Rights Clinic court victory spurs major changes in policy toward those wrongfully deported

The consequences of an Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) court victory in February played out in upper echelons of the federal government this week. On Tuesday the Justice Department announced that it would implement new procedures for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to ensure that deported immigrants who won their appeals can return to the U.S. The State Department is also alerting embassies of the possibility that they will encounter immigrants who won their cases in court and are stranded abroad.

These developments stem from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the IRC in 2011. In the request, Professor of Clinical Law Nancy Morawetz ‘81 worked with IRC students Wonjun Lee '12, Saerom Park '12, Nikki Reisch '12, Martha Saunders '12, Nancy Steffan '11, Julie Mao '11 and Marie Mark '10. The clinic asked the Justice Department to turn over a group of e-mails that discuss the government’s purported policy and practice of returning deportees. In February, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan ordered the Justice Department to disclose the bulk of their content.

This week the solicitor general’s office, which represents the federal government before the Supreme Court, said it would “clarify and correct” a 2009 statement to the court in which it erroneously implied the government already had procedures in place to ensure the return of deportees who win their immigration appeals. The IRC had argued that, on the contrary, the government made no effort to return the deported immigrants to the U.S. The Justice Department’s about face, and the IRC’s role in achieving it, was the subject of stories in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

Morawetz said the new procedures could affect hundreds of deportees. Still, she noted, there continue to be serious shortcomings with the government’s plans for dealing with deportees who win their cases. “We are continuing to work for better policies and greater transparency,” she said. “But it is a tremendous victory to have gotten to this stage.”

"We are thrilled that the Office of the Solicitor General has decided to release these emails and correct the record, but are alarmed that they made such conclusive statements of policy and practice to the Supreme Court on such weak evidence. It is unfortunate that it took three years since Nken and a FOIA lawsuit to get to this point," said Saunders.

"It's very sad to think about the people who have won their right to be here, but were forgotten by the government after they were deported, and may have given up trying to return to the United States," Park added. "Immigrant advocates still face an uphill battle under the government's new 'policy' which allows the very agency officials who are responsible for deporting people to decide if it's "necessary" to bring them back after they've won."

Posted on April 25, 2012