Immigration attorney Nicole Ramos offered a firsthand perspective on the border crisis on March 20, at the first public event hosted by the law school’s new Center for Law, Policy, and Social Action.
The director of the Border Rights Project at the Los Angeles and Tijuana-based nonprofit, Al Otro Lado, Ramos provided a harrowing account of the experiences of those who have been unlawfully barred from applying for asylum in the U.S.
“People do not have anywhere to turn,” Ramos said, describing how she and other advocates have camped out with asylum seekers and employed creative tactics as well as legal assistance to help those trying to escape violence and “certain death” at the hands of gangs and cartels.
Well before caravans of migrants began arriving at entry points on the Mexican border in 2017 and 2018, Ramos said, officials from Customs and Border Patrol were routinely turned away asylum seekers and advised them that the U.S. was no longer accepting applications, in violation of federal law.
Ramos witnessed the process firsthand, when she accompanied a client who was fleeing Salvadorean gangs to the U.S. Mexico border and was told – before identifying herself as an attorney – that he should go to the embassy in his home country.
Asylum seekers who Ramos has educated about their rights have faced physical abuse and neglect of medical treatment while in detention, she said.
Al Otro Lado is pursuing legal action on several fronts, Ramos said, including two lawsuits filed against the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that CBP has denied people the right to apply for asylum and that the Trump administration cannot force asylum seekers to await their hearings in Mexico, as well as suit against a private prison subcontractor who violates labor trafficking law by forcing detainees to work for as little as $1 per day.
For her efforts, Ramos has been placed under surveillance by authorities in the U.S. and Mexico – a development that came to light when a DHS whistleblower leaked a database of immigration attorneys and journalists who were under scrutiny to the press. In a story about the database on March 6, NBC News reported that it contained information about Ramos’ car, her mother’s name and her travel history.
Ramos’ appearance marked the first public event hosted by the center, which brings together scholars and practitioners from the Philadelphia area with the Kline School of Law to promote policy innovation.
The center is directed by Professor Rose Corrigan, who holds a joint appointment at the law school and Drexel’s Department of Politics in the College of Arts & Sciences.
The center engages faculty, students and alumni in diverse ways: sponsoring conferences and seminars, hosting discussions, and forging partnerships with organizations across the city that are interested in promoting justice and social action. The center will host its next public event on Tuesday, April 9 at 5:30 pm, when political scientist Sayu Bjojwani will discuss her recent book, “People Like Us: The New Wave of Candidates Knocking at Democracy’s Door.” For more information, sign up for the center’s mailing list here: http://bit.ly/CLPSAlist.