Thousands and thousands of Third World refugees are languishing behind bars in the land of the free. They're not criminals. They're "detainees," impoverished and desperate people who entered the United States without the proper credentials. Most have been held for months; some for years. Many are seeking asylum from political persecution in their countries; some now just want to go home. All have to wait until U.S. immigration authorities determine their fate.
Some, however, have had their "sentences" shortened, thanks to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and its team of attorneys who know their way around the detention centers, federal courtrooms, and what was formerly the INS bureaucracy.
"CLINIC" can point with pride to scores of success stories. In the past year the agency interceded on behalf of immigrants from Somalia to Lebanon, from Iraq to Haiti, Brazil, and beyond.
Take the case of two young Haitian men who fled to Florida in a rickety boat to escape political persecution. One had been imprisoned and beaten severely for speaking out against abuses by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government. The other had witnessed the assassination of an uncle, who was an opposition leader. CLINIC lawyers presented their appeals for asylum and the two were freed after four months of detention.
"We've had a lot of success," said Kathleen Sullivan, CLINIC's director of detention projects in Boston. It demonstrates that justice is served "when people who are indigent have competent, hardworking representation."