Lawyers help restore dignity and humanity to immigrants and their families: Yusuf and Manuel’s stories

Many clients felt vulnerable even before their detention, felt disrespected by immigration system actors and, without attorneys, were confused about the immigration court process. Repeatedly, clients pointed to ways in which their SAFE attorneys helped restore dignity to them and the process and put them at ease even when they did not fully understand complex immigration court proceedings.

For example, Yusuf observed that an immigration court interpreter was not enough to help him understand “the law, the Constitution, or the codes” well enough to defend himself effectively. After obtaining representation, he noted that a lawyer “can step in and just save your life.” When Vera interviewers asked more about this, Yusuf explained that he came to the United States on a student visa that had recently expired. While he saw himself as someone working hard in the United States, the detention center staff told him he was a national security threat and kept him—he felt arbitrarily because of his appearance and Middle Eastern descent—in solitary confinement. This deeply affected Yusuf emotionally, who felt he had to “just take everything they doled out” and viewed the harsh treatment as “so un-American.” With a SAFE lawyer’s intervention, Yusuf was soon released from detention, has obtained legal work authorization, and has returned to his community in the United States. He credits the attorney with helping him get out of detention and juxtaposed the dehumanizing experience of detention with the respect his attorney showed him.

Detention, he explained, was difficult to endure and made one depressed. “You can’t say anything because you are [regarded as] worthless,” he reflected.

Manuel also described how his SAFE attorney saved him from the despair of detention and prevented him from giving up before he had a chance to present the merits of his case. He underscored this point by recounting how detention facility staff once punished him for leaving a door open in an attempt to get some fresh air when he was having an asthma attack. Ordinarily, he would just reach for an inhaler, he said, but in detention it took weeks to obtain one. Many people in detention suffered accidents because of situations like this, he noted. Detention, he explained, was difficult to endure and made one depressed. “You can’t say anything because you are [regarded as] worthless,” he reflected.

Like Mariana, Manuel observed that he met many people in detention who could have fought their cases, but they could not find attorneys and often decided they should just “sign papers agreeing to be deported,” even though it meant separation from their families. He spent six months in detention before he met his attorney and, though he was quick to say she has been honest about how tough the case is and has not given him false hope, she helped him achieve release so he can continue to fight his case from outside of detention. “Immigration authorities separate and destroy families,” he reflected. His lawyer helped him return to his.