In the past few years the American Civil Liberties Union has been at the forefront in the fight to protect the rights of immigrant detainees.
Now the ACLU is expanding its Immigrants' Rights Project in New Hampshire, which the organization says is dedicated to expanding and enforcing the civil liberties and civil rights of immigrants and to combatting public and private discrimination against them. For this effort, the New Hampshire ACLU has hired its first immigration legal fellow.
SangYeob Kim spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello about his new position.
(This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
New Hampshire has a relatively small number of immigration cases compared to states along the southern border. Why does New Hampshire need the Immigrants' Rights Project?
There are many reasons. Number one, we have a facility in Dover, Strafford, where it has a contract with the Department of Homeland Security. This is the only facility outside of Massachusetts that detains immigrants pending their deportation proceedings or waiting for physical deportation. We don't have such a facility in Maine nor in Vermont. So everyone, most of the immigrants who are either apprehended by Border Patrol or ICE in Vermont, Maine or New Hampshire, more likely they are coming to Dover. So my main responsibility is to recruit, train volunteer lawyers so that they could provide legal services, legal representation to detained immigrants. As a pro bono lawyer yourself you've represented immigrant detainees at the Strafford County Department of Corrections. What are you seeing there and what kind of cases are you most concerned about? I started my work as a pro bono lawyer since December until this position. My most concern is detained immigrants who do not have financial resources to hire private lawyers but who do not have any criminal conviction or any indication of flight risk. They are eligible for bond, they are eligible to be released, but when they do not have private lawyers or any lawyers to represent them before immigration court, the chance of being released is just so slim. They can't just win bond hearings. What can immigrants do if they've broken the law by coming here illegally? I mean what can be done to protect them? Some say "They've broken the law. They need to be punished for it." Breaking immigration law is really vague. There are many different types of violation of immigration law. Whenever somebody is being detained by the Department of Homeland Security, officers have their own discretion and officers have a power to either completely deny the bond or set a reasonable amount of bond. So my question is, without any criminal conviction, without any indication of being a flight risk, people who have family members, people who have good claims, why couldn't just officers provide a reasonable amount of bond. On a personal level what drew you to this kind of work? I came to the U.S. when I was a high school student. I was born and raised in South Korea but then I wanted to go overseas. So I chose the United States. I thought that it was a great country, it was a big country. So even though I came here as a high school student I had to go back to South Korea to serve to do the military obligation. I was a Marine officer and then one of my positions was the liaison officer to the U.S. Marine Corps where I had to serve with U.S. Marines every day for a year and six months. What I saw was under the same core values the Marines have, I believe it is honor, courage and commitment, under that core values, I saw all different immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants, even noncitizens as well. I saw they are working towards one, same goal to protect the U.S. Constitution, to protect the freedom of the United States. I thought that it was amazing and fantastic to see that. That's the point where I started to realize and appreciate the beauty of diversity. Hopefully I could defend the rights of immigrants in the States so that that beauty of diversity could be contributing to the whole nation in the United States.