Attorney counsels Hispanic community through increased deportation efforts
03/28/2017 10:58AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
June 16, 2015: Announcing his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, Donald Trump tells the crowd gathered at Trump Tower, "When Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best. They are not sending you. They are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs and they are bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”
November 8, 2016: Trump defeats Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
January 20, 2017: Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
January 25, 2017: Trump signs an executive order regarding detention of undocumented immigrants. The lengthy orders contain a number of provisions designed to execute key elements of the anti- immigration agenda, including stripping federal funding for "sanctuary" cities that attempt to thwart the deportation efforts; beefing up enforcement priorities, and laying the groundwork for his signature wall along the Mexican border.
February 12: Trump sends the following Tweet: "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"
March 14: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that 248 detainees were arrested by ICE agents in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia between Feb. 27 and March 10. The agency's website said that the arrests targeted “criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, re-entrants and other immigration violators,” and acknowledged such operations “may result in arrests of individuals other than those initially targeted.”
Avondale immigration and nationality law attorney Lindsey Sweet is tired.
The firm of Sweet & Paciorek, LLC is booked solid for appointments for the next six weeks, in a frenetic flourish of activity that began the day after the new president was inaugurated. The calls to the firm were coming from the Hispanic community in the southern Chester County area. The mothers and fathers spoke to Sweet and her partner Anna Paciorek did so out of a fear that the kicked-up efforts to remove undocumented residents would eventually find their way to their front doors. Some told Sweet and Paciorek that they were even afraid of visiting the firm's new office on Baltimore Pike, because it would firmly plant a mark on their backs that they were seeking legal counsel.
"There was fear of coming to see me, and that's a whole new level of fear," Sweet said. "The issue is that they've been here for a long time, and while most do not have criminal records, they drive, and the fear is that driving will cause them to have an accident or be pulled over for having a broken tail light. They will have to go to court, and have ICE see them in the courtroom. They're afraid to move now."
All over Chester County, Hispanic families are huddling away from the light, and it's everywhere: in homes, on the job, and at schools, where stories of youngsters not knowing if their mother or father will be home when they get back from school have become well documented. Such fear among the Hispanic community may be on the rise, but it's not new. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act into law, which stated that immigrants unlawfully present in the United States for 180 days but less than 365 days must remain outside the United States for three years unless they obtain a waiver.
If they are in the United States for 365 days or more, they must stay outside the United States for 10 years unless they obtain a waiver. If they return to the United States without the waiver and after accruing a year or more of unlawful presence in the United States, they will never be eligible for a waiver.
In Sweet's opinion, the laws governing immigration "have been wrong for a long time."
"Unlike the people who are opening their eyes to this situation for the first time now, I've been angry since the beginning," she said. "Since I've been an attorney, I have been angry with the ways that the laws are treating these hard-working immigrants for some time. What's changed is enforcement of the laws that have been on the books."
While Sweet said that ICE has always been in Chester County, their mission was up to the discretion of the officers to track down certain individuals, a practice commonly known as "targeted enforcement action."
"I don't think we're seeing more ICE in our community than we did before, but the enforcement actions are yielding a wider net of those detained and being processed for removal proceedings. They're taking more people," she said.
During meetings with her clients, Sweet -- who speaks fluent Spanish -- reviews their rights, and encourages her clients to develop an emergency plan, in the event that a member or members of the family are detained. The plan involves determining who the caretaker for their children will be if they are detained; memorizing emergency contact phone numbers; and coordinating all essential documents, including proof of having lived in the U.S. for the previous 10 years, and placing them in a secure container and in a location that is known to emergency contacts.
"I advise my clients to start gathering that documentation now, because once someone is detained, it becomes extremely difficult to access paperwork," she said. "All of these things need to be told to an attorney and contacts ahead of time."
The foundation for what has become Sweet's life's work was constructed early in her life. When she was a high school student growing up in Kennett Square, she volunteered at La Comunidad Hispana, and waitressed at Longwood Gardens, where she got to know several of her Hispanic co-workers and their families. Sweet said that her eyes were opened to an entirely distinct community that was not hers -- another world in her hometown that she had not previously been exposed to.
"It was the realization that there was another community within my community that I knew nothing about, a community that my friends and my family didn't know about, either," she said. "It was their immigration process to the United States that began to impact me, and I wanted to help them find a way to normalize their status in their search for stability and survival."
As a student at Haverford College, Sweet spent time living and studying in Veracruz, Mexico. After graduation 2003 with degrees in Political Science and Spanish, she worked for the Migrant Education Program, then entered law school at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark, where she received multiple fellowships that helped fund several projects, including the legal outreach programs she set up for Spanish indigent farm workers across Pennsylvania.
Sweet returned to Chester County in 2010, and continues to advocate for migrant children and their families through American educational and legal systems, including truancy court. She designed, implemented and supervised academic and character education programs, including a gang prevention soccer team and career exploration program for pre-teen Latino boys, which now has 800 members. In addition to her practice, she also serves as American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Immigration and Customs Enforcement Liaison Co-Chair for the Philadelphia Chapter of AILA.
"My grandmother came to the United States from Germany during the Holocaust," Sweet said. "She was always an advocate for the oppressed, and that torch was instilled in me from birth, to also serve as an advocate for the oppressed."
The practice Sweet shares with Paciorek is far from the full extent of her outreach to the Hispanic community. She frequently gives talks and workshops on immigration-related topics of interest to Spanish speaking communities, and the social service agencies that serve them in Southern Chester County Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Recently, she was invited by the West Chester Area School District to speak to parents, and then conduct an in-service workshop for the district's teachers.
Sweet has also spoken at La Comunidad, at a Migrant Education Parents annual parents conference in Harrisburg; at various Migrant Education events in the county; and to workers in the local mushroom industry. Over the course of the last few months, she has seen a meteoric rise in the number of non-immigrants who ask to become involved.
"I'm a member of the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs in the Kennett borough," he said, "and through this organization, my church, my children and my husband, I feel like I have been renewed and invigorated to do my job better, because I see that outpouring of support for the immigrant community by the non-immigrant community.
"I've been doing this work for a long time now, but I've been doing it alone," Sweet added. "There had not been up to this point this outpouring of support until now. I have gotten calls from teachers, former attorneys and high school friends, who all tell me, 'I want to support this movement. What can I to help?'
"I see that this is not just my cause anymore."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommendations for Undocumented Immigrants
1. Create an emergency plan and ask the uncomfortable questions now.
Who are you going to call if you are detained? Who is going to care for your children if they get home from school and you aren’t there? Who knows where your important documents are?
Who do you want to have the right to make financial decisions in your absence?
2. Pull together and carry with you proof of having been in the United States for the last two years.
Undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for less than 2 years may now be removed expeditiously from the United States without ever seeing an Immigration Judge.
To avoid confusion and make sure that you have the right to see a judge, have your evidence with you.
3. Make copies of and safely store your important documents.
Passport(s), birth certificates for you and your children, marriage certificate, etc.
Protect your originals securely and do not take them with you in your bag or vehicle unless necessary.
4. Save money.
The minimum bond that an Immigration Judge can issue is $1,500, but there is no
maximum. Almost all applications with Immigration carry some type of fee and few attorneys offer their services on a pro bono basis.
5. Consult with an immigration attorney that has experience with deportation cases.
Not all attorneys with experience have experience in immigration matters and
not all immigration attorneys represent clients in removal proceedings.
Part of your emergency plan should be understand what your legal options are should you have contact with Immigration. Ask your immigration attorney to help you develop your emergency plan.
Source: Sweet & Paciorek, LLC