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The Play Typer Guy Podcast
What’s The Real Border Crisis?

What’s The Real Border Crisis?

An interview with immigration lawyer Lily Axelrod

We go a little NPR radio on the weekends here. This is my interview from last year with immigration attorney Lily Axelrod. I think it holds up well, especially considering the proposed asylum process changes in the border security legislation that Republicans just blocked.

Podcast link is above and the YouTube video is embedded below.

Transcribed excerpts from our discussion:

SER: You run Axelrod Immigration Law, a boutique immigration firm, serving the globe from Memphis, Tennessee, and you handle family-based immigration and humanitarian applications and deportation defense.

Can you just sort of give a sort of 50-foot view of what specifically the kind of cases you handle and where they would apply in Memphis?

LILY AXELROD: So I handle deportation cases mostly before the Memphis Immigration Court. That’s anybody from Tennessee, Arkansas, Northern Mississippi, and sometimes Kentucky who find themselves in deportation proceedings.

That includes folks who have recently entered without permission, folks who have had their green card for many years, but are being challenged by ICE or for a number of reasons.

I work in the immigration courts. I also do family-based petitions … someone who is maybe a U.S. citizen petitioning for their spouse or their parent and humanitarian cases, including asylum and special protections for children who have been abused or neglected, survivors of domestic violence, gender-based violence and other crimes, and survivors of human trafficking.

And then in the last couple of years, I’ve also started suing the government. I’m working in federal court, which is nominally more of a real court than immigration court, suing the government for improper interpretation of immigration laws or just unfair and unreasonable delays.

Because as anyone who’s been involved with any facet of the immigration system [can tell you] the system is an inefficient mess at best at getting just basic adjudications done.

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SER: I was reading an article that you’ve been quoted in regarding how ICE had almost deported a 10-year-old cancer survivor and his mother. Can you tell us a bit about this?

LILY: Yes. So fortunately, they are still here and they’re still in the process of applying for their green card. Normally, of course, as an attorney, I can’t share much detail about specific cases, but because my client and her family did choose to speak up and speak out to media and they gave me permission to do the same.

So this is a young woman from Honduras and her son who had very serious cancer and was being treated in St. Jude, which of course was the wonderful children’s research hospital we have here in Memphis.

And luckily, St. Jude was able to put his cancer into remission and he was receiving ongoing care and follow-up and social services from St. Jude here in the Memphis area, but because they had come in without permission and had their asylum case denied by the Memphis Immigration Court, unfairly in my opinion, but because they were not successful with their asylum application, they did have orders of deportation against them, both mom and son from the Memphis Immigration Court, which means technically at any time ICE has the legal authority to detain and deport them.

However, Mom had married a US citizen who was in the process of petitioning for both of them.So when you have a deportation order, but you’re married to a US citizen, it can be a complicated process. They don’t just hand you a green card as some folks might assume. So they were in the process of applying for her green card.

My client was checking in with ICE periodically. They were aware that her son was getting treated at St. Jude and that she was in the process through her husband, and then one day she came into what she thought was going to be a standard you know one of these check-ins with ICE to make sure they’ve got her address updated and are aware of the status of her case and instead of instead of that they end up taking her and her son, detaining them and … they were about to put them on a deportation flight and … I still have not gotten ICE to explain to me why in particular this family at this time for this reason for or for whatever reason that didn’t make a lot of sense other than that they can.

So I think folks associate this type of story with or they want to associate this type of story with, oh, that's the kind of thing the Trump administration would do. But no, the ICE machine operates under [President Joe] Biden as well.

And their position is that if someone has a deportation order, they can go ahead and enforce it and get their statistics up for the month, and folks who are regularly checking in with them and who already have a deportation order are perhaps easier to kick out of the country.

So this family was very lucky that her husband realized that what should have been a quick check-in, his wife hadn’t come home. And so we were lucky that he got in contact with me in time for me to get in contact with ICE. The initial response that I got from ICE, you know, I said, “Are you aware that you have a St. Jude patient cancer survivor who is in the process of applying for Green Card child in detention?”

The person I spoke to said, “No, I was not aware let me look into that,” and then the initial response I got was “well, they have a deportation order so you know nothing we can do,” so I fortunately through some through some pushing … I’m not sure exactly why they decided to go back on the nothing they can do but an officer did go to the Memphis Airport, instead of boarding them on that plane, we’re able to to bring them home.

So that was, of course, a very disturbing.

SER: There are so many stories like this and something that I think often gets lost: It’s not illegal to seek asylum, right?

LILY: Exactly.

SER: That’s always been presented somehow as they’re breaking the law these immigrants seeking asylum.

LILY: So the law says that any person inside the United States or presenting themselves at the border or a port of entry, you know, at the airport or at a border checkpoint or wherever it may be, has the right to seek asylum from persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, which is kind of a funny category, but that can include, for example, you know, if you might be persecuted for being gay or trans in your country, if you're being persecuted because of membership in your family.

Those are some common examples.

Even if somebody comes to the country without prior authorization, without a visa, they are entitled to apply for asylum and it’s not illegal to do so. The asylum right … comes out of the Refugee Convention, which in turn came out of the aftermath of World War II and was designed to be an international agreement to make sure that genocide like we saw under Hitler would never happen again.

And as part of our obligation, we need to have a fair process for accepting refugees and processing their cases.


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The Play Typer Guy
The Play Typer Guy Podcast
"The Play Typer Guy” offers an engaging deep dive into politics and pop culture. Your host is Portland, Oregon-based playwright, columnist, and media critic Stephen Robinson. His son describes him as “play typer guy."