Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground breaking victories in the courts and committed resources to bring about legislative reform. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) upholds due process and human rights protections for immigrants by leveraging its network of 1,500 pro bono attorneys and organizational partnerships. Informed by its direct legal service work with approximately 10,000 immigrants annually, NIJC identifies and challenges systemic barriers to justice. NIJC advances equity and inclusion so that all individuals – regardless of ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, or criminal background – can exercise their rights, reach their potential, and participate fully in society.

For several years, NIJC has been challenging the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) position that a prior removal order bars a noncitizen from being considered for asylum. In passing the Refugee Act and signing onto the Refugee Convention, Congress made the right to seek asylum broadly available and subject to limited exceptions. The categorical denial of this right to individuals who have been previously deported is improper. Nonetheless, DHS has denied thousands of people who previously were deported the opportunity to seek asylum.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, NIJC will pursue this litigation in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on behalf of a Honduran environmentalist, Carlos, who left the United States after he was ordered deported in absentia in 2003. When Carlos returned to Honduras, his environmental activism affected powerful interests, leading to him being kidnapped and tortured for three days. When he went to the police to seek help, he realized that the police were involved in his torture. Fearing for his life, Carlos fled to the United States and was detained at the border. The immigration judge granted Carlos withholding of removal (a lesser form of protection) and denied asylum.

NIJC has represented Carlos throughout his immigration process, and has identified his case as presenting strong arguments to advance this issue. The issue in his case affects thousands of asylum seekers with prior deportation orders nationwide.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, 208 S. LaSalle, Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60602, (312) 660-1351