Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review - Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation

Why do immigrants risk robbery, rape, incarceration and even death to enter the U.S. illegally?  Why don't they just "get in line?"  The answer is simple, but the "close the border" folks don't want you to hear it: for a few, the line is decades long, and for most, there's no line at all.

Many fine books have already plowed this sad ground: The Snakehead, by Patrick Radden Keefe; Enrique's Journey, by Sonia Nazario, and my personal favorites, three volumes by Luis Alberto Urrea: Across the Wire, By the Lake of Sleeping Children, and The Devil's Highway.

Now add to your collection this new, different and important contribution to the genre: Train to Nowhere - Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation, by Colleen Bradford Krantz (Ice Cube Press, 2011.)

In 2002 a group of migrants from Central America were smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border near Harlingen, Texas.  There they were hidden inside empty grain-hopper railcars, presumably for a short trip past Border Patrol checkpoints.  The plan was to release them a few hours later, to resume their journeys into the U.S. by other means.  The plan failed: many of the migrants were discovered and arrested, but one railcar escaped notice and moved on down the line.  By the time it was discovered in Iowa, several months later, all that was left of eleven migrants was their partially skeletonized remains.  They had died horrible deaths by hyperthermia, as the sealed railcar had reached temperatures of 140 degrees and beyond.

Ruled homicides by the authorities, the deaths of the "Denison Eleven," as they came to be known, resulted in federal criminal prosecutions of the smugglers and their accomplices, along with a civil lawsuit against the railway.  Colleen Bradford Krantz, a writer formerly of the Des Moines Register, dug into the case and developed an award-winning documentary for Iowa Public Television in 2010.  Now she has fleshed out the fascinating characters of this true story - the victims and their families in the U.S and abroad, the criminals and the investigators - in a page-turner that all border buffs, immigration scholars and concerned citizens will want to read.  Character-driven, well-written, thoughtful and penetrating, "Train to Nowhere" is a valuable contribution to the study of migration.

For those of us "in the business," and especially those of us who live and work near the border, the suffering of migrants is nothing new.  So it's helpful and re-invigorating to view this ongoing tragedy through the relatively new eyes of the reporters and investigators in the "heartland," in Iowa, for whom, until 2002, the border and its problems had seemed far away and unimportant.

In the late 1960's a British blues band, Savoy Brown, issued a ballad entitled "Train to Nowhere."  The last stanza could have served as a warning to the Denison Eleven: "Please now brother don't you ride this train,
Ride the wrong rails, live your life in vain."

Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation
By Colleen Bradford Krantz
Ice Cube Press (2011)

Colleen Bradford Krantz’s book, “Train to Nowhere; Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation,” is being released this month.  This is Day 1 of her week-long “blog tour.” Join her tomorrow at nonfiction book blog,  “Train to Nowhere” can be purchased at or on Amazon.  Learn more at or follow Colleen on Twitter @bradfordkrantz

Reviewed by Daniel M. Kowalski, Editor of Bender's Immigration Bulletin (LexisNexis) and Bender's Immigration Bulletin - Daily Edition.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NAIJ Statement for Senate Judiciary Hearing

Statement of National Association of Immigration Judges
Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on
“Improving Efficiency and Ensuring Justice in the Immigration Court System”
May 18, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Comments on proposed H-2B rule revision

AILA, ImmigrationWorks USA, Colorado Ski Country USA and many other organizations and individuals offer comments on DOL's proposed changes to the H-2B regulations.  Excerpts below.

"[W]e conclude that the proposed rule would have significant adverse consequences for a broad swath of American businesses that rely on the H-2B program. Restaurants, hotels, nurseries, landscapers, lawn care companies, forestry businesses, seafood processors, fisheries, golf courses, ski resorts, amusement parks and a variety of construction firms, among others, would find their businesses hamstrung by the new regulations, and their cost of doing business would increase, in many cases dramatically. If the proposed rule is implemented, many companies will stop using the H-2B program. A significant number might go out of business. The consequences for U.S. workers will be exactly the opposite of what the Department of Labor intends: rather than opening jobs for Americans and improving their working conditions, the new rule will force many H-2B employers to downsize or close, shedding U.S. jobs and generating less economic activity up- and downstream in the local economy." - ImmigrationWorks USA

"We are greatly concerned that implementation of the proposed rule will significantly increase the complexity and costs associated with an already complicated regulatory scheme. The proposed changes will make it exceedingly difficult for employers to continue to temporarily supplement their workforces with H-2B workers." - AILA

"The proposed rule would increase the costs and complexity of the H2B program by orders of magnitude and, in doing so, will make the program virtually impossible for law-abiding seasonal employers to use." - CSCUSA

[Full disclosure: I am a native of Colorado, so the ski industry is near and dear to my heart, and our law firm represents many employers that use the H-2B program.  All comments, pro and con, can be viewed and downloaded at]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Missing Green Card, ICE Ineptitude Trigger 10 Months in ICE Jail

On page 5 of the Spring 2011 issue of the Florence Project's newsletter you'll find this hair-raising story of ICE ineptitude:

Pro Se Client Released After Immigration Mix Up -By Rachel Kling, Eloy Staff Attorney

“Cesar”, a thirty five year old man from El Salvador, was detained by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Eloy Detention Center after being arrested for temporary theft of a vehicle. During his initial interview with an ICE officer, Cesar informed him he was a lawful permanent resident of the United States and that his parents were U.S. citizens. He explained that he came to the United States around the age of nine, settling with his family in California, but traveled back to El Salvador when he was a teenager to get his green card. While in El Salvador, he recalled attending a consulate appointment, getting an HIV test and having his fingerprints taken. He also recalled returning to the United States in an airplane, through the Los Angeles Airport, and thereafter receiving his green card.

When the ICE officer tried to verify Cesar’s claims through the agency’s internal database, it came up blank. According to its records, Cesar had no legal immigration history and no application for a green card had ever been filed. Consequently, Cesar was detained in Eloy and charged as removable by ICE. In his first appearance before an immigration judge, Cesar told the judge he believed he was a lawful permanent resident but he had no documentary evidence to support his claim. Proceeding pro se, Cesar struggled to obtain proof of his legal status. He was unable to access his apartment to get any records and his parents no longer had copies of the application, as it had been filed more than twenty years ago.

Eloy staff attorney Rachel Kling worked with Cesar over the next ten months to try to prove his lawful permanent resident status, knowing it would be an uphill battle with only his word as support. Rachel called several of Cesar’s former employers in California, but none had retained records of his legal work status or were willing to release those records. She then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and three months later Cesar received a copy of the petition his father had filed for him in 1990. At Rachel’s prompting, ICE then conducted a further investigation, which revealed that Cesar had been a beneficiary of the Family Fairness Program, a temporary program created in the early 1990’s to help children of permanent residents live lawfully in the United States with their parents. This exciting news corroborated the story Cesar had been telling all along.

Cesar’s struggle was not yet over, however, as ICE argued that the application alone did not show he had completed the process of becoming a permanent resident. Rachel helped Cesar file an additional FOIA request and tirelessly contacted the office of the Ombudsman at U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service. After much investigation, the Ombudsman’s office reported that the government had mistakenly assigned two different alien registration numbers to Cesar at some point in his immigration history, hence the inaccurate information about him. Once Rachel learned about the alternate alien registration number, she requested ICE conduct another search. This search revealed that Cesar had indeed become a lawful permanent resident in 1992. After ten months in detention, charges against Cesar were dismissed. While detained, Cesar’s grandfather, who cared for him as a young boy in El Salvador, passed away and his mother suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for several weeks. Cesar is now reunited with his family in California.

[Hats off to attorney Rachel Kling and FIRRP!  Learn more about FIRRP
and then  Please give generously.]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Unpub BIA Padilla remands; pending motions

In at least two unpublished BIA cases, both issued on Jan. 21, 2011, both signed by Board Member Carol King, the Board has remanded due to pending Padilla motions.  Both decisions use the same language: "We find that a remand is warranted so that the Immigration Judge may consider the new evidence pertaining to the respondent's request for post-conviction relief. On remand, the Immigration Judge should receive further evidence to ascertain whether this request was actually filed with the criminal court, which is not apparent on the current record. If the petition for post-conviction relief has been filed with the criminal court, the Immigration Judge should verify its status and should evaluate its impact on the respondent's removability and eligibility for relief. Both the respondent and the Department of Homeland Security may present any and all available relevant evidence to the Immigration Court."  The cases are here and here.