Late last year, local police in Florida stopped a vehicle for an alleged improper turn at an intersection during morning rush hour restrictions. The driver of the car was fair-skinned, and the three passengers were dark-skinned. They were on their way to work together. The local police did not arrest anyone; however, the police officer called the Border Patrol and held the individuals for over an hour because he suspected the passengers were in the country illegally. The local police was not deputized to enforce immigration law. The Border Patrol was aware that the police officer was unlawfully enforcing immigration law, yet decided to respond to the call. The Border Patrol arrested and detained the passengers, and they were put in removal proceedings.
Community organizers and lawyers from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Corn Maya and the Jupiter Neighborhood Resource Center rallied to the defense of one of the young passengers. They raised questions about the local police actions – was this a case of racial profiling? Is it the job of local police to contact the Border Patrol about passengers in a traffic infraction? Did the local police and/or Border Patrol respect the constitutional rights of the passengers?
The local organizers contacted the National Immigrant Bond Fund to help bond the passenger out of detention, and they recruited Rebecca Sharpless of the Immigration Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law to represent him. Her students recently appeared in immigration court on his behalf. Here is our interview with the students:
Bond Fund: How did you get interested in immigration law?
Ben Quevedo: The law school clinic was an opportunity to do pro bono work, and a good opportunity to get hands-on training. So much of the law school experience is confined to a classroom. The Immigration Clinic provides a chance to help real clients with a need for representation.
Daniel Yibirin: I came to this country as a child, and became a citizen five or six years ago, when I was a junior in college. I knew the process first-hand and how stressful the process can be. Therefore, I’m interested in helping others with their immigration cases.
Bond Fund: What did you do on behalf of the client in this case?
Ben Quevedo: We identified several constitutional, statutory and regulatory violations that were committed during the arrest of our client, so we filed motions to suppress evidence and terminate proceedings based on those violations.
Bond Fund: Why did you file a motion to suppress?
Daniel Yibirin: We believe that the actions from the local police officer and from Border Patrol were unlawful for many reasons. Therefore, it was necessary for us to file a motion to suppress so that we could exclude the illegally obtained evidence. It was also important to file a motion to suppress to hopefully deter future Constitutional and regulatory violations.
Ben Quevedo: Every one in this country has certain constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer.
Bond Fund: What surprised you most about presenting a case in immigration court?
Daniel Yibirin: I had previously worked as a law clerk for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, so I was aware that the Court is often overburdened with a heavy caseload. However, I think it still surprises me the sheer amount of cases that are heard on a daily basis and how long it sometimes takes to get a final decision. We were present for two master calendar hearings but will not be in the clinic for the individual merits hearing.
Ben Quevedo: We hoped to have a resolution before the end of the school year, so it was anti-climatic for us and the client when the case was continued. We won’t be with the clinic any more after this semester, but we will be following the case as the next student attorneys take over to see what happens next.
Bond Fund: Many thanks to you and all the people and organizations that pulled together to help on this case.