It’s easy for U.S. citizens to take their Constitutional rights for granted. But for many immigrants working to become citizens,the legal system they have to navigate, can be extremely frightening. That fear has only heightened since Donald Trump’s inauguration as President.
What’s being done about it? UNLV Boyd Law School Professor Michael Kagan explains not only how UNLV’s Immigration Law Clinic works, but why these immigrants need this resource now more than ever before.
How it all began
The UNLV Immigration Law Clinic began in 2003 as a program that offers free legal assistance to immigrants in need. The clinic initially focused on children and family cases, then branched out to take on higher-profile asylum cases. Professor Michael Kagan joined Boyd Law School faculty in 2011, then took over the Immigration Clinic in 2016.
In a sense, the clinic is returning to its roots as it takes on a growing number of cases involving children seeking asylum. But with Donald Trump seeking to deport immigrants across the board, even children escaping violence, the clinic is stepping up to defend these and other local immigrants in their hour of need.
“If we’re so alarmed by the violence of MS-13, why would we close our doors to the victims of MS-13?”
– Professor Michael Kagan
In July, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried MS-13 and other violent international gangs during a speech he gave to Southern Nevada law enforcement leaders. Kagan explained how he agrees with Sessions on the brutality of MS-13, but can’t understand the Trump Administration’s drive to punish the victims of this brutality.
While Sessions and Trump frame their anti-immigrant policies as “law and order”, Kagan described how these policies target victims who come to the U.S. to escape MS-13. He wants this administration to understand how their actions jeopardize his clients. “Their happy childhood was taken away when MS-13 showed up. They fled murder and rape. We as a nation should be welcoming them.”
“Why did the bully win?”
– The question Michael Kagan’s younger daughter asked him the day after the 2016 election
Kagan has two adopted daughters. Both are immigrants. Even though they are now U.S. citizens, they still feared Trump’s threats of mass deportation.
Kagan showed his older daughter her proof of citizenship to try to allay her fears. He reassured her, “They can’t deport you.” She quickly replied, “That’s just a sheet of paper.”
While immigrants have legal rights, the Trump Administration has been trying to circumvent these constitutional protections as it’s been ordering more deportation raids. When asked about the stories of immigrants being detained by ICE then rushed into deportation proceedings, Kagan offered this blunt assessment of the current landscape: “When Trump targets immigrants, he has tools he can use to go after immigrants. It shows how dangerous our situation is.”
“Fighting crime by targeting immigrants is like fighting traffic fatalities by targeting Subarus.”
– Michael Kagan
Do immigrant communities have reason to fear? Sadly, Kagan thinks so… Particularly because Las Vegas Metro Police and other local law enforcement agencies are “walking a very thin line” in participating in ICE’s 287(g) program that authorizes local law enforcement to detain immigrants to turn over to federal agents.
“We’re seeing more Latina women not report domestic violence and sexual assault,” Kagan explained. “People are increasingly afraid to call 911. That’s great for rapists. That’s great for abusive husbands. That’s not great for immigrant victims of crime.”
“Moral clarity is important. […] There ought to be some common fundamentals we all agree upon.”
– Michael Kagan
Even amidst this challenging environment, Kagan sees reasons to hope. U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) recently took to The New York Times to challenge Trump on immigration. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has challenged Trump on his coddling of white supremacists post-Charlottesville. “I want to believe there are still many Republicans who view immigrants with sympathy.”
As the nation still recovers from the tragedy in Charlottesville, Kagan has some advice: “We need to realize what’s within the realm of normal political disagreement, and what’s not.” While Americans may disagree on health care and tax policies, there shouldn’t be disagreement on condemning bigotry or protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Professor Kagan and the other attorneys at the UNLV Clinic represent many of the most vulnerable immigrants in the Trump era. These people do not fit into the “violent criminal” stereotype perpetuated by Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. These are people, many of them children, who are just seeking a better life. It’s up to the lawyers at the UNLV Clinic to ensure these people get their day in court… And perhaps, to remind the rest of us of what America is actually supposed to be about.