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By Kelly Vomacka

*Editor’s note: The author is a lawyer who has provided volunteer assistance to the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center (KIAC) in Bremerton, among other nonprofits. Her story was provided to me by KIAC’s Immigration Legal Services. Her experiences occurred during President Obama’s time in office. He deported over 2.5 million people, more than any president in history, continuing the upward trend in deportations since the 1980’s.  Incoming president Donald Trump has made mass deportation one of his signature issues, promising to deport as many as 11 million people. This article details the process as it is today; if deportations increase, the system’s ability to respond will undoubtedly deteriorate, and the way human beings are treated–including many children— will become inestimably worse.

A couple of years ago, I volunteered at a weekend workshop for immigrant “Dreamers”—those people you’ve heard about in the news who were illegally brought to the US as infants and are now in their 20s. I enjoyed the workshop so much that by the time I left I wanted to practice immigration law. I loved hearing the Spanish, seeing the amazing young people, helping immigrants achieve the American Dream. Most of my legal experience was in criminal law, and seeing a young adult with no convictions and straight A’s did my heart good.

nwdetention3

Detainees inside the women’s wing of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

So off to Immigration Land I went. A friend of a friend helped me get started, throwing me various bits of contract work and showing me the ropes. Suddenly, there I was, going to court, writing appeals, the works. And what I quickly discovered is that one does not dabble in immigration law. It’s fantastically complex, and trying to peer at the hairs they split could make you go blind. Plus, if you lose, your client doesn’t go to prison, they go to a country where they are pretty likely to die. As in: die. Be dead.

So I chickened out and came back to criminal law. But along the way I met enough immigration lawyers that I started doing some post-conviction relief work for their clients, and I volunteered for a couple of pro bono immigration cases.

Even this tiny bit of immigration “experience” sets me apart from the average criminal attorney, for whom immigration law is a mysterious black box and all they know is “talk to Washington Defender Association.” That’s all I know, too, but I’ve visited Immigration Land just enough to have a few postcards to share from my travels. I think of myself as a tourist who went to Europe and saw 9 countries in 10 days. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I love the Constitution

Seriously, love it. Have you ever wondered what criminal law would look like without it? Okay, I know, you see that every single day. So do I. But really, what if it wasn’t there? What if the accused had no right to counsel, no speedy trial, no jury, none of it? Okay, a few shreds of Due Process for decency’s sake, but that’s all.

There’s no Constitution in immigration law. Not much of one anyway. The Constitution does not apply to borders, and, thanks to our old friend the Legal Fiction, much of immigration law is considered to be “at” the border. Clients have no right to a lawyer, since immigration law is “merely” civil. I have sat in court and watched person after person, with no legal training, no English, and no interpreter, try to defend themselves against deportation. I’ve seen a judge prevent an interpreter from interpreting, even though the interpreter was sitting right there. I’ve seen continuances that go years into the future, once because the interpreter didn’t show up, a few times because the judge was out sick. I’ve seen people locked up without bond who have committed no crime at all.

I’ve seen people locked up on obviously unconstitutional searches and seizures. Yes, I wish the criminal courts would follow the Constitution more closely, but boy oh boy am I glad it’s around at all.

The detention center is a hole

The Northwest Detention Center is the worst jail I’ve ever seen, hands down. It sits out on the Tacoma Tideflats, over a Superfund site. It is surrounded by concertina wire. There is no bus service. The only parking is for staff and government lawyers. There are no coffee or sandwich shops nearby. It is privately run by a national prison corporation, and Congress has mandated a quota of inmates. You read that right: The detention center is required, by law, to fill a certain number of beds each night.

The front door greets you with numerous signs telling you what illnesses you may contract if you go inside. The architecture is Late Brutalist, constructed of whitewashed concrete blocks. Despair oozes from the walls. Everything about the place says “Danger. Keep out.”

But you enter anyway, because you need to get to the courtroom inside. You go through security screening, which is similar to jail screening. Then you are buzzed through a heavy locked door into a dismal waiting area that compares unfavorably to the airport. You make pleasant small talk with the guard to charm your way through the next locked door, into a narrow hallway lined with benches. On those benches are potential deportees, color-coded jail garb, at various levels of misery. Finally you are admitted through the third locked door into the courtroom. I should mention, if it’s not obvious, that the courtroom is open to the public.

I should also mention that plenty of people housed there have legal status in the US. Many of them are Legal Permanent Residents, and notice that first word there is “legal.” Not all, not most, but many.

There’s also a court in Seattle. I can’t call it a courthouse. It’s a suite in an office building downtown. No locked doors, but same screening, same dismal waiting area.

All of the courtrooms are beautiful, with churchy pews for the audience, a wooden railing with a proper gate, big gleaming counsel tables, comfortable chairs, and top notch electronics. The courtrooms are painted in a rich teal that exudes both power and calm. The “judges” wear robes (more on the air quotes in a minute), and the staff operates with hushed efficiency.

It’s not a real court

They hate it when you say this, but it’s true. Immigration courts are administrative bodies, not courts. The judges answer to the Attorney General, and ultimately to the president. They are employees of the executive branch of government, and if they stray from government policy, they are punished. They have no judicial independence whatsoever.

Continue Reading »

RentalIt’s been six months since the Bainbridge City Council voted to develop the Suzuki property with an emphasis on affordable housing, and picked Olympic Property Group as the developer. With the housing crisis raging on throughout the Puget Sound region (see, e.g., here, here, and here, and the island’s Housing Needs Assessment, here), Bainbridge Island has made little progress toward easing its affordability problems.  And that lack of progress comes after more than a decade of inattention, as I wrote in March, when I noted that since 2003, the island has increased its income-qualified affordable housing stock by only 66 units.

But maybe there’s some good news after all. While progress on the Suzuki property has been bogged down in the particulars of an ecological study, the drafters of the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan update have done some promising work of their own.

The drafting committee has come up with concrete programs with a track record for helping to alleviate the housing cost burdens embedded in a community where the median single-family home price exceeds $750,000 and rental vacancies are near zero.

Among the ideas: amend the City’s development rules to encourage innovation such as tiny houses, micro units and cottage housing; expand opportunities for infill in Winslow and the Neighborhood Centers; and allow the creation of small lots and smaller footprint homes.

One idea in the draft Comp Plan has been especially popular in other communities: the Multi-Family Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. Established by state statute, this program allows local governments to exempt multi-family housing developments from property tax for 12 years if at least 20% of the units are rent-restricted for income-qualifying tenants. This program has been adopted by cities across Washington, both large—Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Bellevue—and small—Bellingham, Moses Lake, Yakima, Shoreline, Bremerton. Continue Reading »

Eight years ago I posted an article on this blog, To Russia with love, about that year’s fundraising efforts by Camp Siberia. Now known as Bainbridge Island/Kitezh, the organization is one of the island’s oldest cultural exchange and service organizations for teens. For over 15 years, it has been bringing Bainbridge Island teenagers to Russia to provide friendship and support to children who had been momhugorphaned and/or displaced as a result of social and economic upheaval following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Each year from in 1999 through 2011, Bainbridge high school students traveled to Russia to put on an American-style summer camp experience for orphans. In addition, Camp Siberia helped many of these orphans gain vocational and academic opportunities through a scholarship program. (Since 2011, Bainbridge Island/Kitezh has continued to provide cross-cultural friendships and exchanges with Russian orphans through an ongoing, local program in Kitezh).

This summer, Hannah Crichton and Kyle Scoble, two former Bainbridge High School students who participated in the Camp Siberia program in 2007, will return to Russia to find campers from their summer with Camp Siberia, and capture on film a window on their current lives.

As Hannah explains, “They are now all young adults, living in the real world, without financial support or education. Our short documentary will explore the paths these former campers have taken and update us on the day-to-day lives they currently live. Statistics are not in these kids’ favors – most Russian children who leave the orphanage system around age 16 end up on the streets, becoming involved in crime, committing suicide, or unemployed. The campers we are profiling are all making their own paths, and we can’t wait to see them again!”

Hannah and Kyle are raising money for the costs of this project through Indigogo. You can learn more about their project, budget and their qualifications at this link: Tiny.cc/russiansummer

Hannah says they’ve raised about $8000 toward their goal of $17,700, and they are grateful for all donations, large or small.

Send some love to this worthwhile project by donating! Posting the link to their Indigogo page on Facebook or Twitter would be really helpful too.  Tiny.cc/russiansummer

 

 

 

The City has sent out the following press release about last night’s Council decisions on next steps in the process to develop the Suzuki process:

The Bainbridge Island City Council has established a path to move forward with the development of the Suzuki Property, including completing an ecological study of the property and identifying a development team, the Olympic Property Group, to begin negotiating a development agreement.

At their Regular Business Meeting on March 23, the City Council laid out a path to move forward with an ecological study of the Suzuki Property. The citizen advisory Environmental Technical Advisory Committee (ETAC) will work with City staff to identify information already available regarding the property, and will identify additional information needed to establish an ecological baseline for the site. Once the additional information needed has been identified, ETAC will make a recommendation to the City Council as to the best path moving forward to gather the identified information.

The Council also voted to direct the City Manager to move forward with negotiating a development agreement with the Olympic Property Group. During their next meeting on Tuesday, April 12, the City Council will discuss the scope and parameters that will inform the City Manager during these negotiations. The exact details of the development contract including requirements for affordable housing, types of community amenities, etc., will be decided during these negotiations. All Councilmembers have already expressed a strong desire that the developer be required to carry out an extensive public engagement process as a condition of the development agreement.

 

Bainbridge Mayor and Council member Val Tollefson has posted the following memo on the City’s website:

To: City Council; Doug Schulze
From: Val Tollefson
Date: March 21, 2016
Re: Proposal for moving forward with the Suzuki property Background.

There appears to be majority Council support for selecting a developer and moving forward with development of the Suzuki property. At the same time, there is unanimous support that if any development is to happen, it must be in the context of protecting the important ecological attributes of the property. Finally, there is strong sentiment among some on the Council and within respected members of the community that before any development activity proceeds there should be an ecological assessment of the property, to establish baseline information and ensure that there is no compelling but currently unknown reason to abandon development efforts before any substantive development takes place. There is also some opinion that such assessment should be done by persons or organizations without ties either to the developer or to the City, in the apparent belief that an unbiased assessment cannot otherwise be expected.

Following are my views on these issues. I hope they will help us have a productive discussion tomorrow evening.

Baseline Ecological Assessment proposal.

While I agree that an early baseline assessment of some aspects of the property is prudent, I do not agree that such assessment should happen independent of involvement of the developer, for several reasons. First, tasking the City with contracting for such an assessment will inevitably increase the cost and slow down the process. Second, it is important to involve the developer in defining the scope of such an assessment so that the scope will not be deficient and require unnecessary repetition if the development proceeds. Third, at least one of the baseline issues that should be addressed (the impact of any proposed development on aquifer recharge and the hydrological functioning of the non‐ developed portion of the site) requires input from the developer with regard to areas subject to potential development.

I believe that any fear that involvement of a developer will compromise the process or be a de facto decision to proceed regardless of what an assessment might reveal are groundless if we take the following three steps:

  1. Task the Environmental Technical Advisory Committee to act as the City’s advocate in collaborating with the developer to define the scope of an assessment, in approving the qualifications of professionals retained by the developer to perform the assessment, and to verify the adequacy and reliability of any resulting work product. ETAC will have to agree to this assignment, and to its willingness to handle these responsibilities (which should be short‐lived) on an expeditious basis rather than through its regularly scheduled meeting process. Alternatively, the City could retain a professional project manager to discharge these responsibilities, although after some research I’m not sure where we would find such a qualified professional.
  2. The City will require that this assessment be completed and reported to the City Council for consideration and possible approval before any other aspect of a potential development proposal is considered by the Council.
  3. The City will agree to reimburse the developer its costs incurred in performing this assessment should the assessment result in the City deciding to abandon the project.

If the Council agrees that this is a reasonable approach, I suggest that we direct City staff to implement this strategy. Although the scope of the assessment should ultimately be determined by those with expertise, I suggest that the main items that need early attention are:

1. A survey of the property, to include surveyed location on the property of trees
identified by a certified arborist as mature or old‐growth, and the outline of the
portion of the property identified by that arborist as constituting “mature forest”.

2. A report by a certified arborist identifying the species, estimated age and health of each tree located in the survey.

3. A report by a certified arborist of requirements to protect the health of the mature forest, including buffers from construction activity, or recommendations on means of construction that would avoid damage.

4. A report by a qualified professional as to the impact on aquifer recharge that would follow from development of any particular part of the property, and of the
consequences for the ecological function of the remainder of the property of such
development.

5. A report by a qualified professional as to the minimum buffer around the existing pond and elsewhere on the southern border of the property necessary to preserve the essential ecological function of the pond, and to provide reasonable screening to adjacent neighbors.

Developer Choice proposal.

I recommend that we direct Staff to negotiate a development agreement with Olympic Property Group for the following reasons, and with the following instructions:

My recommendation of OPG is based on the following factors:

1. I believe that OPG is best‐qualified financially and by experience to provide a project that will be functionally and esthetically acceptable to the community.
2. I personally believe that for a development agreement to gain Council support, it will be important for the developer to lead the development team in considering innovative ways of addressing community interests and Council priorities, and to maintain a robust and effective community outreach process. I think OPG is best equipped to accomplish this.
3. Of those members of the public commenting in support of some development of the property, there has been significant support of including some sort of Boys and Girls Club/Community facility. Such a facility would be a good fit with this development and adjacent neighborhoods, and potentially would result in less traffic impact at critical times.
Development Agreement directions to Staff.
If we move ahead as outlined above, I suggest we provide Staff with some specific goals for a development agreement. My current list includes, in no particular order:

Continue Reading »

The City of Bainbridge Island sent out this press release this morning:

Earlier this morning the Bainbridge Island Police Department was notified of two suspicious incidents involving an adult approaching students on Wardwell Road in Bainbridge Island.

The first incident occurred yesterday afternoon, March 17 at approximately 3:20 p.m. while students were walking home from school on Wardwell Road between Sportsman Club Road and McRedmond Road. A white male driving a dirty white pickup truck stopped and offered the students some ice cream. When the students declined the male drove away.

The second incident occurred this morning, March 18 at approximately 8:20 a.m. , and also took place on Wardwell Road. A white male driving a dirty grey four door sedan stopped and asked a student where the student was going.  Continue Reading »

At tonight’s City Council study session, the four members who are taking the lead on the question of what to do with the Suzuki property–Mike Scott, Val Tollefson, Wayne Roth and Roger Townsend–gave strong guidance on the Council’s next steps in the process to choose a developer for the property and finalize plans for the site. By the end of the session, the remaining three members–Sarah Blossom, Kol Medina and Ron Peltier—appeared to concede to the near-inevitability of development of the property, and began to express their ideas and preferences for development.

The Council decided to come back to its next meeting with suggestions for the parameters of an ecological study to determine where the significant trees are located, what must be done or avoided in order to maintain their health, and what kind of buffer is needed around the pond. A hydrology study will also be done. Council members will bring to the next meeting suggestions for a firm that could do the studies.

They spent great deal of time debating whether to decide on a proposer/developer before completing the study. Ultimately, they decided to choose the developer and then work to revise the plans as a partner with the developer, retaining Council control and opportunity for community input at each stage of the process. Peltier and Medina argued that they should delay choosing a developer until the study was complete. Peltier further suggested that all of the developers should submit revised proposals once the study was complete, based on its findings. That idea was rejected by those in the majority, who preferred to proceed on “parallel tracks”–continuing to work on choosing a developer while the study was being done. They were not in favor of throwing out the work that has been done so far, and did not want to have new proposals submitted.

The Council talked about what kind of affordable housing would be included in the development. Medina suggested that they can’t pick a developer until they have identified specifically what kind of affordable housing the island needs.

To that, Tollefson replied, “We need it all,” adding that this development will not be able to fill to all the needs. The final plan could be all rental, all owned with affordability deed restrictions, or market rate units that are so small they are affordable. He believed that as serious discussion proceeds with the chosen developer, those decisions will come naturally.

One of the biggest surprises of the night came when Tollefson said he had already begun to form an opinion on which developer he might choose. He said he didn’t think the Blue team had the financial capability to do the project and as a result, wasn’t in favor of that proposal.

Tollefson also asked his colleagues for an indication of whether they are interested in the possibility of a Boys and Girls Club on the site, as envisioned under the proposal known as the Farm. Medina said that although he is against developing the site, if it is developed, he would be in favor of the club, or some kind of community center. Peltier wondered why the Boys and Girls Club can’t remain at its current location at Coppertop Business Park. The others did not express an opinion. Continue Reading »