KC attorneys launch new legal network to help immigrant detainees get representation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The death of an immigrant sparked a movement, which turned into the launch of a new legal network to help immigrants fight deportation. 

As the debate on immigrant rights continues to play out, the new organization is one of the many responses. 

Immigrant advocates and attorneys launched the Deportation Defense Legal Network, or DDLN, on Tuesday.

"The hard part is the identifying the detainee and then connecting the detainee to the attorney," DDLN founder Bob Grove said. "ICE, DHS, they work really hard to isolate the detainees." 

Four major law firms are joining in, providing pro-bono work to help immigrant detainees get a bond hearing and a phone call while behind bars. They'll also help the detainee's family navigate the legal system. The four major law firms are Polsinelli, Husch Blackwell, Spencer Fane, and Stinson Leonard Street. 

The DDLN was announced on the one-year anniversary of the death of 27-year-old Jeancarlos "Jean" Jimenez-Joseph, an immigrant from Panama who had spent most of his life in Kansas City. He was a DACA recipient. He committed suicide at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia while in isolation, and while waiting for a bond hearing. His death sparked national outcry and scrutiny of ICE facilities. 

"An army of legal defenders in Kansas City will ensure the basic legal rights of immigrants and will protect them from the moment they are detained," said Kelly Jimenez, Jimenez-Joseph's sister.

Jimenez-Joseph was the seventh person to die in ICE custody in 2017.  He was under deportation orders and had been convicted of motor-vehicle larceny. His family says he suffered from mental illness and should have been monitored more closely in jail. 

"People are detained for longer than they would normally have been in a criminal detention facility, and they will not often have legal representation because they can't afford it, so the impact is that Polsinelli and other firms in the area want to assist these detainees at the time of bond hearing," said Michelle Clardy-Dobbs, director of pro-bono services for Polsinelli. 

The climate of deportation has shifted with the new administration, in which immigrants who were low-priority before are suddenly finding themselves rounded up by ICE agents and put in detention centers. Other than the fact that they may have entered the U.S. without proper documentation, many immigrants have no criminal background.

Some immigrants might have a minor criminal record, like a DUI from years back, like Letty Stegall, who was on a valid work visa. Many have been in the United States for decades, like chemistry professor Syed Jamal, whose case garnered international attention. 

Repeatedly, Congress has failed to pass immigration reform legislation. Republican lawmakers are in the process of moving a petition through the House that would force a vote.

The vote could go in four directions. At least one bill would provide protections for DACA recipients, and at least one bill would require advancements in securing the border. 

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver's (D-Missouri) office gave us this statement: 

“I understand some Republicans have signed a discharge petition to force votes on a series of immigration measures, one of which would include protecting our Dreamers. It is time that we all come together to address this issue. We must craft a set of organized laws and a functional immigration system that will create realistic pathways to citizenship. We have been pressing this issue for far too long. Thanks to intervention from the courts, DACA recipients can continue to renew their status. We must protect our Dreamers so they can continue their lives as the productive members of society. I believe in a clear and permanent pathway to citizenship and will continue to fight for that cause.”

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder's (R-Kansas) office said:

"Kevin has been clear and consistent on his position regarding immigration reform - we must secure our border and fix our high-skilled visa system in addition to addressing what to do about DACA recipients. Any legislation would have to achieve those objectives to garner his support.”

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