|Yale Law School student Justin Cox (right) is pictured at a press conference with Juan Barrera, one of the plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit brought by the Law School's Worker and Immigration RIghts Advocacy Clinic.
One Law Clinic, Two Cities
YLS Students Tackle Immigrant Rights
Cases in Danbury and New Haven
This article originally appeared in the winter 2008 issue of Yale Law Report, the Law School’s alumni magazine.
An online version of the Yale Law Report can be found at www.law.yale.edu/YLR.
Juan Barrera stands in front of a cluster of microphones, his eyes downcast.
He sways from side to side just slightly as he speaks in Spanish. With television
cameras rolling and the flash and click of cameras around him, Barrera tells
of the day in September 2006 when he was arrested in Danbury, Connecticut,
after being offered work as a day laborer.
Beside him stands Justin Cox, a student in the Law School’s Worker and
Immigration Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC). When Barrera finishes speaking,
Cox begins translating.
“We didn’t know why, but they immediately arrested us and put us
in handcuffs. We didn’t know what was going on,” he says.
Barrera begins speaking again, and the cameras continue to roll.
This day marks a milestone not only for Barrera, but also for WIRAC. Cox and
other students in the clinic have called this press conference — a year
after the arrests of Barrera and 10 other Danbury day laborers — to announce
that the men popularly known as the “Danbury 11” have filed a federal
civil rights lawsuit. With the help of the clinic, 9 of the 11 men arrested
in September 2006 are suing the City of Danbury, its mayor, several of its
police officers, and a number of federal agents for violating the First, Fourth
and Fourteenth Amendments. It has taken thousands of hours of research, writing
and phone calls on the part of the students and their supervising professors
to get to this day.
Meanwhile, 40 miles away, New Haven is embroiled in its own immigration battle.
Again at the center of all of the controversy, a group of Yale Law School students
and their teachers have spent countless hours meeting with clients, researching
legal standing, and drafting requests and memos.
In June 2007, the New Haven Board of Aldermen overwhelmingly endorsed a municipal
I.D. card program that would allow all residents of New Haven — regardless
of citizenship — to obtain “Elm City Resident Cards.” Just
two days later, in a move Clinical Professor of Law Michael Wishnie ’93
J.D. characterizes as possibly “retaliatory,” federal immigration
officers conducted raids, arresting 32 people suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Representing nearly 30 of those arrested, WIRAC is alleging that Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents used racial profiling to target those
arrested and entered homes without warrants or consent. In August 2007, the
clinic filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department
of Homeland Security aimed at discovering how ICE agents coordinated the June
raids and the extent of the New Haven Police Department’s involvement
in the raids. The clinic has also filed FOIA suits against the Connecticut
State Police, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Department of State, all of whose
agents, according to ICE, also participated in the New Haven raids.
“Family members, clergy, community leaders and city officials asked Yale’s
clinic to join them in assisting the men and women arrested in the New Haven
raids — the federal government, after all, is represented before the Immigration
Court by experienced prosecutors,” Wishnie says about the clinic’s
decision to become involved in the case. “The government alleges that each
of our clients is an unauthorized immigrant, but those allegations are neither
conceded nor proven. Rather, on behalf of our clients we have challenged gross
abuses by immigration agents who entered homes without warrants or consent, made
arrests without probable cause, engaged in racial profiling, and impermissibly
retaliated against the city’s residents for adopting the municipal I.D.
The Danbury 11
According to the lawsuit brought by the YLS faculty members and students, Barrera
and his co-plaintiffs were victims of illegal immigration enforcement by local
police and of racial profiling. The “Danbury 11” arrests, the lawsuit
alleges, are part of a pattern of unlawful and discriminatory law enforcement
by the Danbury Police Department and ICE.
Ten students have worked on the Danbury 11 case, with several faculty members
providing oversight. Law School students Simon Moshenberg, Elizabeth Simpson,
Shayna Strom and Margot Mendelson have represented the day laborers in their
removal cases, which are pending before an immigration judge in Hartford, and
also handled a state FOIA proceeding against Danbury. The civil case filed
in September 2007, as well as a pending federal FOIA suit against ICE, is the
work of law students Justin Cox, Rebecca Engel, Geri Greenspan, Thom Ringer
and Michael Tan (with First Amendment research by law student Kate Desormeau).
Christ Lasch ’96 J.D., the Robert M. Cover Clinical Teaching Fellow and
clinical lecturer in law, and Ramzi Kassem, the Robert M. Cover Clinical Teaching
Fellow, join Wishnie in supervising the students.
As a second-year law student, Cox heard about the case shortly after the men
were arrested on Sept. 19, 2006. “I knew that a couple of my friends
[Moshenberg and Greenspan] were working on getting the men out on bond, and
I heard how they were driving all over the place to find the guys, scrambling
to raise money and conduct legal research,” he remembers. “My initial
reaction was that this is why I went to law school — to help people when
they need it most — and that I wanted in.”
Cox’s interest in immigrant rights began in college when he was working
at a restaurant waiting tables. The product of a conservative, rural, homogeneously
white town in Missouri, he began an unlikely friendship with several of his
co-workers who were undocumented workers.
“I eventually learned all about the struggles my co-workers went through
to make ends meet,” Cox recalls. “Their stories echoed that of my
own mother, working two or three jobs at a time, and I continued learning Spanish
to keep exploring this new world.”
A year spent in Latin America furthered his sympathy for undocumented workers
in the U.S. “I realized that I was, plain and simple, lucky to have been
born into this country, where hard work can pay off meaningfully, and I resolved
to help those who weren’t born so lucky,” he explains. “[Barrera
et al. v Boughton et al.] encapsulates all of those motivations, I think: these
guys were just out looking for honest work so that they could put food on the
table, and they got arrested for it because the government thinks they weren’t
lucky enough to be born in this country. I can’t imagine anything more
|Clockwise from top left: Hope Metcalf, clinical visiting lecturer in law, and law students Stephanie Akpa, Stella Burch and Nicole Hallett are shown working on the defense of Fair Haven residents arrested in a raid.
On the morning of his arrest in September 2006, Barrera says he was waiting
in Danbury’s Kennedy Park — a well-known area for day laborers
to wait for work — when a man in a van approached him and offered work
demolishing a fence. Barrera accepted the offer and got in the van. A few blocks
later, the van pulled into a parking lot, where it was surrounded by law enforcement
officials, and Barrera was arrested without explanation. Denied access, he
says, to a telephone or an attorney, he was held in solitary confinement for
four days, then transferred to a Massachusetts prison.
As it turns out, the men arrested that day were transported to different detention
centers around the country, some as far away as Texas. After the initial work
of getting the men out on bond, Cox joined the case. Though the immediate concern
was building a defense in immigration proceedings, there was also work to be
done researching the possibility of an affirmative civil rights suit against
the City of Danbury and ICE, sending off various FOIA requests under state
and federal law, and filing FOIA actions if the agencies did not respond (the
first of which was filed in federal court in December 2006).
The language and geographic barriers made fact development a challenge. “Our
clients … spent between 10 and 35 days in detention,” Cox says. “Throughout
the bond process, the team had little contact with them — which, we think,
was the point of shipping them all over the place.” But with the help
of Danbury and New Haven community members, clinic students were able to talk
to the men over several weeks, clarifying what happened. They also researched
the context of the arrests and established what Cox calls Danbury’s “recent
anti-immigrant policies” which involved, according to the civil suit,
unequal enforcement of housing rules, traffic stops motivated by racial profiling
and a crackdown on volleyball games, a sport favored by the Ecuadorean community.
“What became clear through our fact development was that whoever carried
out the arrests trampled on our clients’ constitutional rights,” Cox
says. “In particular, the fact that they were arrested without a single
question being asked of them is indicative of Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection
violations (the latter because the officers were apparently just assuming that
since they were Latino, they were undocumented). The background information about
the attempts of Mayor Boughton and the Danbury police to drive the day laborers
away from Kennedy Park suggested they were being retaliated against for their
First Amendment rights to congregate and solicit work.” One of the suit’s
common threads is that the Danbury police routinely make civil immigration arrests
without having followed the statutory procedures set out by Congress for the
local enforcement of immigration laws.
After brainstorming possible constitutional violations and theories, the team
divided the work into substantive areas of law. Tan took on Equal Protection;
Desormeau and Engel worked on the First Amendment; Ringer tackled preemption;
Cox took the Fourth Amendment and Federal Tort Claims Act; Moshenberg, Simpson
and Strom became the experts on state FOIA and the immigration proceedings;
and Greenspan researched issues of standing, federal FOIA and municipal liability.
As they each produced memos on their area of law, the
students reached out to YLS faculty (including Robert Post ’77 J.D.,
the David Boies Professor of Law, and Pam Karlan ’84 J.D., then the Sidley
Austin-Robert D. McLean ’70 Visiting Professor of Law) for their expertise.
In between weekly strategy meetings with Wishnie and Lasch, the students sent
flurries of e-mails, sharing drafts of memos and complaints. “The more
we researched and wrote,” Cox says, “the more inspired we became,
for what we were learning was only confirming our own gut instincts about the
case: our clients had been grievously wronged.”
Besides learning firsthand about the Fourth Amendment, FOIA litigation, the
nuts and bolts of immigration law and proceedings and filing a lawsuit, Cox
has improved his Spanish, particularly his legal vocabulary.
“I’ve also learned a great deal about how local municipalities, frustrated
at the lack of federal action in immigration law and enforcement, are attempting
to fill the vacuum with their own regulation and enforcement activities,” Cox
The clinic students and faculty meet with their Danbury clients about once
a month, though Moshenberg and Cox (both of whom speak Spanish) keep in touch
with the men more regularly to ask follow-up questions and remind them of court
appearances. Other members of the team are in charge of cooperating with Danbury
community supporters, who include clergy, private citizens and town council
“Our clients have been very appreciative of our work, and conscientiously
do everything we ask of them,” Cox says. “They know that they represent
a larger struggle for Latino and immigrants’ rights in Danbury and beyond.”
The New Haven Raids
While Cox and others have been working on the Danbury 11 case, law student
Stella Burch has been focusing her efforts on a separate immigration case in
New Haven. On the morning of her third day working with the clinic this past
summer, Burch heard whispers in the hallways that something “big” had
happened. Over the course of the day, details emerged and clinic students learned
that a number of Fair Haven residents had been arrested in raids conducted
by ICE agents.
The raids came just two days after New Haven’s Board of Aldermen approved
a proposal to create a municipal I.D. program, effectively granting all New
Haven residents — regardless of immigration status — a form of
valid identification entitling them to certain municipal services.
That evening, Burch and a number of her peers went to a local church where
they worked with the families and friends of those who had been arrested. “It
was a very moving experience,” Burch remembers. “People were distraught — especially
the children who had seen their parents arrested. People were afraid to come
forward and speak to us, afraid to be out on the streets, and even afraid to
return to their own homes.” After several hours, the volunteers had compiled
a preliminary list of people who had gone missing during the raids.
“As soon as we had names we started calling prisons — trying to find
out where our clients were,” Burch remembers. “This was not an easy
task. In order to locate anyone detained within the immigration system, you need
an Alien Identification Number, known as an ‘A number,’ issued to
an alleged alien when he or she is processed by the authorities. But nobody knew
the A numbers, apart from the detainees themselves, who had not been able to
make phone calls. We eventually located our clients by making cold calls to prisons — we
called just about all of the county jails and private prisons in New England
to track down all of our clients.” Similar to the Danbury case, those arrested
in the New Haven raids were moved out of state — to Massachusetts, Rhode
Island and Maine. Concerned that their clients would be moved even farther away,
clinic attorneys two days after the raids tried to file emergency bond motions
in their clients’ names. Those motions were initially rejected because
the attorneys didn’t yet have the clients’ A numbers.
Visiting her clients in a Rhode Island jail the weekend after the arrests was
an experience that Burch (who is British and had never before been to an American
prison) describes as “sobering.”
The visit, though, strengthened her resolve for the upcoming days of exhaustion. “I
don’t think anyone can really be prepared for the whirlwind experience
of that first week — I certainly wasn’t,” she says. “We
didn’t sleep much, and we had to fight hard for every scrap of information
we could lay our hands on. It was also emotionally draining, hearing the stories
of how people had been taken away from their families — especially the
stories told by the children. But the guidance from [supervising attorneys]
Mike Wishnie, Hope Metcalf and Chris Lasch was amazing — I think all
of the students felt overwhelmed by the experience, but incredibly supported
in our work.”
Burch and fellow clinic students Tan, Bram Elias, Deborah Marcuse, Anand Balakrishnan,
Sarahi Uribe (a recent Yale College graduate who had taken an immigration clinic
while an undergrad and speaks Spanish fluently), and two law school students
from the University of Connecticut and the University of Pennsylvania often
worked late into the night, sustained by large quantities of local pizza.
The students met with their clients several times while they were in prison
and interacted frequently with the clients’ families. “It was very
humbling,” Burch says, “to hear them say ‘we believe in you,
we know you will get us out of jail.’ We were first-year law students,
we knew nothing — or at best next-to-nothing — and we were still
the best ‘lawyers’ to whom our clients had access.”
Community support for those arrested was high. A few days after the raids,
St. Rose of Lima Church organized a special Mass and candlelight vigil in support
of the detainees. “The church was packed: looking out across the congregation
I saw not just Catholics, but also Protestant clergy and Jewish men in yarmulkes,” Burch
remembers. “Outside the church people of all races, ages, faiths and
denominations mingled on the steps wearing signs saying ‘no human is
illegal.’ The son of one of our clients wore a huge board around his
neck with the names of everyone who we knew had been taken, including his mother.”
Burch describes the clinic’s clients as hardworking, decent and family-oriented.
And she questions the methods used by ICE agents and the detainees’ lack
of access to attorneys. “Immigration raids like this happen every day,
in cities across the U.S., in places where there is no Yale Law School, and
no widespread city and community support for the detainees,” she says. “We
have a real opportunity here in New Haven to litigate this case on behalf of
our clients and other people like them, in the hope that by doing so we can
bring about real change.”
In addition to being emotionally rewarding, working with the clinic has provided
Burch practical experience. “It’s one thing to learn the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure and quite another to have to file an emergency bond
motion in immigration court!” she says.
As a British citizen accustomed to a centralized government, she feels the
experience has given her a new appreciation for the ways in which a federal
system can propel progressive policy making and the power of local government.
“The City of New Haven’s support for its immigrant community, and
the progressive policies it has introduced — for example the Elm City Resident’s
Card Municipal I.D. or the New Haven Police Department General Order prohibiting
police officers from inquiring into immigration status — have really changed
my perception of what local government can achieve,” she says.
That type of hands-on learning is at the heart of the clinic’s benefit
to students. “In a clinical program, students must learn to apply abstract
legal rules to the reality of human behavior,” says Wishnie. “And
in exercising judgment on behalf of a real client, in a teaching environment
that encourages planning, reflection and self-evaluation, the students learn
the craft of lawyering.”
In the past few months, additional Law School students have joined the work
on the New Haven Raids case and associated FOIA cases. They are: Nicole Hallett,
Stephanie Akpa, Anant Saraswat, Prithika Balakrishnan, Amanda Aikman, Simon
Moshenberg, Justin Cox, Rebecca Engel and Shayna Strom.
The Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization’s Worker and Immigrant
Rights Clinic represents immigrants and low-wage workers in Connecticut in
labor, immigration, trafficking and other civil rights areas, through litigation
for individuals and non-litigation advocacy for community-based organizations.
Students handle cases at all stages of legal proceedings in Immigration Court,
U.S. District Court and other forums.
The clinic’s non-litigation work includes representation of grassroots
organizations in regulatory and legislative reform efforts, media advocacy,
strategic planning and other matters.
For more information, visit www.law.yale.edu/wirc.
— By Kaitlin Thomas
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