Working on Illegal Detainment Issues in Arizona
December 11, 2014
After 2L year, Greg Baltz (a current 3L) spent his summer with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) in Florence, Arizona. FIRRP is a non-profit organization with its central office serving adult non-citizens detained in Florence and Eloy, AZ as well as two offices serving unaccompanied minors held in shelters in Phoenix and Tucson. Greg worked in FIRRP’s Florence office, where six attorneys as well as two legal assistants and a social service coordinator serve approximately 2,500 non-citizens, almost eight percent of the overall detained population in the United States. These men and women are detained in five separate immigration detention facilities run by the federal government, Pinal County, and private contractors like the Corrections Corporation of America in the towns of Florence and Eloy, Arizona. FIRRP strives to ensure that detained individuals have access to counsel, understand their rights under immigration law, and are treated fairly and humanely by the judicial system. Because the need in the area is so great and the attorneys are so few, FIRRP has created a triage system involving “Know Your Rights” presentations, short consultations with current detainees to determine which detainees may qualify for immigration relief, and follow-up meetings to help prepare their cases. Most of FIRRP’s work focuses on giving detainees targeted assistance to enable them to represent themselves. FIRRP cases span the gamut of removal defense, including asylum applications, U and T Visas, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and cancellation of removal for both lawful permanent residents and undocumented individuals.
While at FIRRP, Greg’s day-today activities involved visiting detention centers two to three times a week, giving “Know Your Rights” presentations in Spanish, and interviewing non-citizens to gauge the organization’s ability to help them. He met with the detainees who were receiving assistance from FIRRP to help them gather evidence and prepare their cases for court. He also researched immigration issues and country conditions and contacted detainees’ families to gather further evidence in support of the detainees’ cases. Greg also drafted motions and briefs to present to the court. He represented a Somali refugee before an immigration judge both in a bond hearing, where he secured the refugee’s release from detention, as well in a merits hearing, where his client was granted lawful permanent residency or a “green card.” He gained experience researching and writing immigration law, preparing openings as well as a direct examination.
Applying to the organization.
Greg was familiar with FIRRP before coming to Harvard. In September of his 2L year, he submitted an application including a cover letter, resume, and writing sample. Greg finalized his 10-week placement in December, after deciding to spend the remaining four weeks of his summer working at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York, NY.
Things to consider.
Students interested in pursuing this type of work should consider what kind of substantive work they want to do over the summer. Greg’s work was legal-services oriented, involved regular client contact inside detention facilities, and required fluency in Spanish. Greg has found that his knowledge of the immigration system has been helpful in the community lawyering and housing work he engaged in with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston, MA. Working with FIRRP allows law students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the basics of immigration law, to get direct exposure to clients and the bureaucracy of the immigration detention system, and to appear in court. Overall, Greg would recommend an internship at FIRRP to anyone interested in seeing the inner workings of the immigration system, spending significant time in detention centers and in the heart of anti-immigrant animus in the U.S., working with individuals in removal proceedings, and learning from an excited, smart, and passionate team of attorneys.
Written by 1L OPIA Section Rep Marin Tollefson