Open Letter from Carmela Apolonio Hernandez

Free Migration Project is publishing an open letter from our client Carmela Apolonio Hernandez, who has lived in sanctuary in Philadelphia with her four children for the past year. 

December  2018

Dear Friends,

My family and I are still fighting for our freedom.  We invite you to renew your support of our next phase of organizing.  

For nearly a year at Church of the Advocate, we mobilized thousands of supporters in our campaign for freedom. Together we petitioned ICE, called and met with elected officials, delivered scores of support letters to ICE urging a stay of removal, testified at rallies for immigrant and labor rights and in city council, and even occupied Senator Bob Casey’s office. As a result of our bold actions, a City Council Resolution was passed, a private bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and our story for immigrant justice was widely covered in national and local media. Importantly, we forged strong bonds between immigrant and African American communities, built a powerful vehicle for immigrant justice called the Sanctuary Advocate Coalition, and a highly visible campaign led by Jazmin Delgado and Sheila Quintana.

While Senator Casey did not the take the necessary steps to stand with me, Mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney, City Council members Helen Gym, Maria Quiñones-Sanchez and Darrell Clarke have stood with me. State Representative Chris Rabb, State Senator Art Haywood, U.S. House of Representatives Dwight Evans and Bob Brady have stood with me. Philadelphia Teachers Union, The Temple Association of University Professionals, Decarcerate PA, Free Migration Project, Juntos, Media Mobilizing Project, New Sanctuary Movement, Project SAFE, Reclaim Philadelphia, Stadium Stompers, Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, Unite Here, and other social justice and labor organizations have stood with me. The faith community and Philadelphians of conscience have stood with me. We persisted without rest and we must forge ahead to broaden our movement.

In looking ahead, we made an important decision to coalesce with more faith communities and other families currently in sanctuary. My family and I are deeply grateful to the Rev. Renee MacKenzie and the Church of the Advocate who are living testimonies of radical faith and love. And while moving out from the Church of the Advocate, away from the close and caring relationships that we developed in north Philadelphia will be difficult, we are also grateful to the Germantown Mennonite Church community who have offered to carry on the baton with sanctuary and support for my family.

Taking sanctuary at the Germantown Mennonite Church is a reaffirmation of my resolve to fight for our freedom. It is also a reaffirmation to fight alongside other immigrants and black and brown people, who are separated from family and incarcerated in this country through a system that profits from mass incarceration.  

Today ICE is detaining record numbers of immigrant children and their families. The Philadelphia ICE Office is the most aggressive in the country. We must continue to forge alliances and be in the struggle.

Please join me in the growing movement for justice.

Yours in Struggle,

Carmela Apolonio Hernandez

Please Support Free Migration Project’s Work this Giving Tuesday

In 2018, Free Migration Project continued to fight for the rights of immigrant communities. Here is what we have been working on this year:

  • We are providing legal representation to three families living in sanctuary in Philadelphia churches, supporting their fight to live freely and safe from harm in the U.S. We also support sanctuary campaigns in four other states through the Colectivo Sanctuario–the Sanctuary Collective.
  • In October, Free Migration Project co-organized the first Open Borders Conference in Arlington, Virginia, to foster dialogue about open migration policies based on a framework of human rights.
  • Free Migration Project is a member of the Shut Down Berks Coalition working to end family detention in Pennsylvania. Free Migration Project provides legal, strategic, and organizational support to the effort to close the Berks family detention center outside of Reading, Pennsylvania.
  • Free Migration Project currently provides direct legal representation to approximately 80 individuals or families in various stages of their immigration cases.
  • We presented four continuing legal education seminars in Texas and Pennsylvania, training attorneys and community organizers how to collaborate on community-supported deportation defense campaigns.
  • In September, Free Migration Project collaborated with La Fabrica Theater Company to support its production of Gustavo Ott’s play “Passport,” a powerful, universal indictment of government abuses at the border.
  • We continue to work with the Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights to promote the rights of immigrant restaurant workers.

Free Migration Project depends on your generous support to continue our work. This Giving Tuesday, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to enable us to continue fighting for human rights.

Please donate here.

You make this work possible!

Thank you,

Dave Bennion
Executive Director, Free Migration Project

Free Migration Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Free Migration Project works at the intersection of law and community organizing to promote the recognition of freedom of movement as a basic human right.

Why We Should Abolish ICE Counsel

Free Migration Project’s executive director David Bennion and board member Steven Sacco published this piece a few months ago explaining why the ICE prosecutor’s office should be abolished along with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations. If immigrants don’t get attorneys, neither should the government.

Since Donald Trump began implementing his campaign promise to make the immigration system more hostile and restrictive, immigration enforcement has been under new scrutiny. Recent calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing immigration laws in the United States, have tended to focus on the immigration police who carry out deportations, a function primarily housed in the branch of ICE known as Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). ICE ERO’s ramped-up program of raids and detentions has been a highly-visible element of President Trump’s effort to solidify political support among revanchist white voters opposed to a multiracial future. However, getting rid of ICE’s immigration police is not enough. ICE also encompasses the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA), which includes the ICE attorneys responsible for prosecuting people in immigration court. As practicing immigration attorneys, we believe that calls to abolish ICE should extend to ICE counsel, since ICE attorneys play an integral role in the deportation process by securing the deportation orders that ICE deportation officers later carry out.

We believe that the immigration legal system is unjust in both purpose and process. Congress designed the immigration system to prevent people of color from entering and integrating into the United States, and the courts have too often interpreted the law to further this basic goal. Due process protections for people in deportation proceedings have been intentionally limited to better implement that illegitimate purpose. Sean McElwee has aptly described the ICE immigration police as “an unaccountable strike force executing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Our immigrant clients experience the full force of that unaccountable and illegitimate legal system through long-term imprisonment, family separation, and the constant anxiety that the threat of exile produces. Our work has led us to support open migration as a basic human right. But we hope that even those who don’t share that view will come to support the elimination of ICE’s prosecutorial branch because it would make immigration proceedings more fair and rational.

Read the full piece at Latino Rebels.

Help Free Migration Project Fight for Human Rights

As Free Migration Project nears the end of its first full year, the challenges facing immigrant communities have never been greater. In 2017, Free Migration Project provided legal representation to immigrants fighting deportation, engaged Philadelphia City Council to support immigrant workers, continued fighting to close the Berks family prison, and challenged a pernicious interpretation of asylum law in federal appeals court. Through its work, Free Migration Project continues to push for recognition of migration as a basic human right. On this Giving Tuesday, I hope you’ll consider contributing to support our work.

Please support Free Migration Project’s work this Giving Tuesday.

In collaboration with organizers, advocates, and students at Temple Law School, Free Migration Project worked with local restaurant owners and chefs Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller to support a resolution in Philadelphia City Council recognizing the right of all Philadelphians to earn a living regardless of immigration status. The resolution passed in April.

Free Migration Project is a member of the Shut Down Berks Coalition, which is working to close the Berks family prison outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. This fall, the coalition collaborated with artist Michelle Angela Ortiz through her project “Seguimos Caminando” to bring attention to the families currently incarcerated at the Berks prison and demand that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf honor the state’s obligation to protect all children within the state.

Free Migration Project currently provides direct legal representation to over 100 immigrant clients in deportation defense, citizenship, humanitarian, and family reunification cases. One of our clients, “Elizabeth,” is currently fighting her deportation in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. With the support of pro bono counsel and a group of advocacy organizations, Elizabeth and Free Migration Project are challenging a critical element of asylum law that has resulted in thousands of wrongful deportations over the past several years. Free Migration Project is also providing legal support to Edith, who remains in sanctuary in Ohio while she fights to stay with her family in the U.S.

Throughout 2017, Free Migration Project has also organized events to inform the public about certain basic human rights that all people possess regardless of citizenship or immigration status: the right to migrate, the right to remain, and the right to full economic, political, and social inclusion.

Free Migration Project depends on your support to continue our work. This Giving Tuesday, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to enable us to continue fighting for human rights.

Thank you!

Dave Bennion
Executive Director

“Opening the Borders” Campus Seminar Nov. 5

Free Migration Project is co-sponsoring a seminar this Saturday, November 5, titled “Opening the Borders: Free Movement, Free People.” The daylong event will be held at the Rotunda near the campus of University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Speakers include Peter Jaworski, Alex Nowrasteh, Jacqueline Stevens, and Niloufar Khonsari. The event is sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies, with the collaboration of Free Migration Project and Penn Effective Altruists.

From the IHS event site:

This seminar will cover one of the most contentious issues of this election year: immigration. From classical liberal to progressive perspectives, this nonpartisan event will bring scholars and students together to explore the idea of open borders, offering new insights and inspiration for tackling this important issue.

Tackle provocative questions like:

  • Is there a right to immigrate?
  • What can we do to address problems related to immigration?
  • What’s the historical relationship between states, nations, citizenship, and immigration?

Register now to join top professors and public intellectuals as they present economic, historical, philosophical, and legal cases for the freedom of mobility.

There should be some interesting conversations, and an opportunity for people of different ideological leanings to discuss a topic of common interest: open borders. I’ll post an update here after the seminar.

–Dave Bennion