Local DJ Thisaphone Sothiphakhak has had a wild start of the year.
In March, he was arrested in his home by immigration agents and cited for deportation. His crime: a fifth-degree marijuana charge from 18 years ago. Last week, City Pages covered Sothiphakhak's ongoing fight to remain in America as a permanent resident, but for now his fate is still up in the air. Immigration Judge William Nickerson Jr. will make a final decision after Sothiphakhak's next hearing on July 8.
In the meantime, Sothiphakhak has begun to raise money to send help immigration lawyers to Dilley, Texas. The border crisis in Texas is something that Minnesota immigration attorneys are watching.
Last summer, thousands of Central American immigrants surged across the Texas border seeking asylum from mounting gang warfare at home. Many were children traveling on their own, sent by parents who hoped they would find safety and shelter in America. Homeland Security responded to the sudden influx of asylum seekers by opening detention centers to hold them all until it could figure out how to process their individual cases.
In Dilley, a prison was built to host up to 2,400 undocumented women and children. This particular facility has captured the attention of immigration reform advocates across the country, sparking protests last weekend calling on immigration courts to either grant these children asylum or send them back to El Salvador. Anything but indefinite detention.
Michele Garnett McKenzie of the Advocates for Human Rights says that Homeland Security has been going out of its way to label these detainees as illegal border-crossers rather than refugees. As people fleeing death and torture in their home countries, those who are locked up in Texas immigrant detention centers should be treated as proper asylum seekers, McKenzie says.
Minnesota attorneys with American Immigration Lawyer's Association and other groups plan to take a van down to Dilley in mid-June, where they'll couch hop with local lawyers working on the pro bono effort. Although immigration law affords everyone the right to legal representation, the United States has no obligation to provide public defenders.
Sothiphakhak says he's gotten a small taste of how backlogged immigration courts are from his ongoing campaign to fight deportation, but there are others who are much worse off.
At Sherburne County Jail, where he was held for two weeks before he got his first hearing, "some of these guys have been in there for months and they're just begging to go home at this point, but they just keep pushing and pushing their court dates," Sothiphakhak says. "I want people to know this is much bigger than me."
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