Dane County Immigration Coalition receives Vera Institute grant (copy)

The Dane County Immigration Coalition received a $100,000 grant Sept. 19 from the Vera Institute of Justice to help defend immigrants in danger of deportation. 

The Community Immigration Law Center in Madison says it's seeing positive results from the deportation defense work of lawyer Aissa Olivarez.

“Under this administration I didn't realize we would be so successful,” Olivarez said. “I didn’t realize that those cases that I prepared some of my families for the worst outcome would have the best outcome.”

And on Wednesday, CILC will announce it is hiring two additional immigration lawyers. That’s an important step toward CILC’s goal to establish a public defender system for immigrants facing deportation proceedings in Dane County, said Grant Sovern, an immigration attorney and president of the board at CILC.

CILC, a free immigration clinic, is celebrating its 10th anniversary Wednesday and released data on the deportation defense work it began in 2017.

In 2017, CILC and the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison received a $100,000 Safe Cities grant from The Vera Institute of Justice. The funds allowed CILC to hire Olivarez to provide pro-bono deportation defense.

Because deportation hearings are civil matters, those facing deportation aren’t entitled to public defenders. Vera advocates for taxpayer dollars to support legal representation for immigrants in danger of deportation, and their Safe Cities funding help set up such a system in Dane County, Olivarez said.

Prior to adopting such a public defender system, only 4% of immigrants facing deportation in a New York immigration court without a lawyer had a positive outcome. With free representation, that increased to an estimated 48%.

According to data released Wednesday, since the program started in September 2017, CILC and the IJC have represented 53 clients in Dane County, and they’ve seen even better results.

Of 11 completed cases, 64% have had a successful outcome, which means an individual was allowed to lawfully stay in the U.S, Sovern said.

Plus, over half of CILC and IJC’s detained clients were released from detention on bond. That makes a huge difference in an immigration case, Olivarez said.

If a detainee is not released on bond, the detainee will face a final decision in about 30 to 90 days. If they are released, Olivarez has two to three years to put together a strong defense.

Release on bond also means the immigrant can return to their family, continue working and seek rehabilitation if they were detained for a criminal issue, Olivarez said.

Lawyers are important because defendants may not understand the complicated legal process or be native English speakers, Olivarez said. Olivarez walks her clients through the whole process: This is where the judge is going to be sitting. This is where the government attorney is going to be sitting. These are the people who are going to be hearing your case.

Court is an “adversarial situation,” she said.

“To go into that all alone, I think many people give up before they even start,” she said. “And some of them sign their deportation because they say, ‘I can’t afford a lawyer and I don't know what’s going on so what am I doing here? How am I going to fight this?’”

Ultimately, CILC wants to see a government-funded public defender model for the entire state of Wisconsin.

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“We want to make sure that we give a lot of time to each one of our clients,” Olivarez said. “If we aren’t efficient and we aren’t effective in our representation, (the consequence) is essentially permanent exile from the United States and separation from your family.”

With help from city and county funds, CILC is hiring an additional full-time and part-time lawyer to handle deportation defense.

Sovern believes these additional staff will put Madison close to fully implementing a public defender system.

“It’s so exciting that Madison is in on this,” he said.

Before coming to work for CILC, Olivarez worked with children detained at the border. That was difficult, but her job here working with adults isn’t easier. IJC and CILC’s clients lived in the U.S. for an average of eight years and had a collective 47 children living in Dane County.

“I see people in detention who worked at our local restaurants, who fixed our cars here in Madison, people who serve our food, people whose children are going to our schools. These are our community members,” she said. “These cases really hit home.”

CILC’s anniversary celebration fundraiser will be held Wednesday, June 12 from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Coopers Tavern, 20 W. Mifflin St.

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