Baton Rouge’s Jeri Flynn Heads Immigration Law Group

by Kathleen Ward
(a reprint from the Baton Rouge State Times, Dec. 30, 1985)

In the movie “Starman,” a friendly alien intercepts an invitation to visit Earth that scientists have sent out in the satellite Voyager. He comes to Earth, only to discover he is most unwelcome.

He is hunted and chased for days before making his escape.

In the United States, $230 million dollars has been raised for the centennial renovation of the Statue of Liberty, which sends out a similar message to the people of our planet.

The message is that they are welcome here: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

Unfortunately, that message rings false to many who yearn to breathe free.

“I’m not sure there are more people jumping ship; we are just hearing about it more,“said Jeri Flynn, president of the Louisiana Immigration Lawyers Association.

The recent incident involving Soviet seaman Miroslav Medvid, who jumped ship near New Orleans twice and was returned to his ship both times, has focused international attention on the problem of foreigners jumping ship in Louisiana to seek asylum.

“It seems like in Baton Rouge the first time I heard about stowaways was the Ethiopians In March and the Medvid case certainly heightened the public’s awareness of people on ships trying to get off to apply for asylum,” Flynn said.

Flynn represented the four Ethiopians who had escaped from prison in Ethiopia and sailed to the U.S., where they jumped ship in Baton Rouge. They were granted asylum.

“They are doing fine. Three are still in Baton Rouge; one of the younger ones went to Washington to live with some of his family there. He calls me. His English is improving. The youngest one entered Lee High in the fall. He is living with a family from Pakistan.”
Earlier this month a Syrian stowaway, Mohammed Marie, asked for asylum after he jumped ship in Baton Rouge. He was sent to New Orleans after spending the night in the Baton Rouge jail. It was his second attempt to leave the ship that week. Because of increasing political turmoil in Latin America, Mrica and other parts of the world, more refugees are expected to try to seek political asylum in the U.S. Many of those who do will find themselves incarcerated in the Alien Detention Center in Oakdale.

The Oakdale facility, the first of its kind to be jointly operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, will probably hold about 1,000 inmates, but could hold up to 6,000, according to Martha J. Kegel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.

The ACLU sued to stop the center from being located in Oakdale, a rural parish with what they considered inadequate airport facilities. The Oakdale center is by far the largest Immigration and Naturalization Service detention facility. Kegel has been critical of both the detention of people whose “crime“is their desire to become Americans and the location of the center in Oakdale, a town of 7,200 people and no immigration attorneys.

The government will have eight immigration judges and 16 government attorneys in Oakdale fighting the applications for asylum of detainees able to find the counsel necessary to apply. Most of the aliens are expected to be from Spanish-speaking countries, and many will be unable to understand English. Before 1981, those applying for asylum were not put in prison, but were allowed to remain free until their applications were processed, which can take more than a year. But four years ago, the Reagan administration decided to deny bail to the detainees. Current laws require that an applicant for political asylum demonstrate that he has been singled out for persecution in his home.

Flynn, whose practice is about 75 percent immigration law, said the Oakdale facility“would be absolutely like a prison.~ “It will be Central Americans, mostly. These people are incarcerated until a hearing. Being Central Americans, some of them will want to apply for asylum and may be entitled to receive asylum,” said Flynn.“They won’t have access to pro bono (‘public good’) attorneys in Oakdale. That will be a problem. In every major city there are attorneys who provide free services to Immigrants who can’t afford a lawyer. It’s my understanding these groups are raising money to provide some of these services in Oakdale, but there Is no way these groups can provide those services for 1,000 detainees. We are going to keep them imprisoned until they are deported.“It seems from my limited viewpoint that it’s a waste of money. People who have committed no crime, who have come here and established some claim to stay are entitled to a hearing. Why wouldn’t they appear at a hearing?

“The reason some of them stay there so long is that they have filed an asylum request. It takes months or years to be granted a bearing. Why can’t they wait on the outside? Why can’t they go where they have a relative to help them Houston, Chicago, wherever? It wouldn’t cost our government anything.“I don’t know that there will be a criminal element there.

From what I’ve read about detention centers in Texas, It’s like a prison. Even attorneys would be searched. It’s real difficult for attorneys to have access to a client In a detention center, much more so than it’s been my experience in a local jail,” she said. Some of these hopeful immigrants are suffering because of the Cubans who came herein the 1980 boat lift from Mariel, Cuba, at the invitation of former President Jimmy Carter.

“The Cubans who are still in detention centers are excludable to: the US. because of offenses either in~ Cuba or her~ Carter apparently was and~remains extremely concerned about human rights. He didn’t realize many of the people, called Marielitos, were from Cuban jails. “I believe he thought they were political prisoners. As It turns out many were guilty of cries against society.”

Flynn is critical of Carter’s open-door policy to the Cubans because of the large backlog of people who have applied through the regular channels and are still shut out “It was a terribly unfair thing for him to do. There were many people who have been waiting (in other countries) for years for immigrant ~as or waiting here for years for permanent residency. It’s not fair for our government to favor on group over another for political reasons.”

Flynn has been involved in immigration law since since about 1979.

“Some of my earliest cases just happened to be immigration cases, so the practice just evolved. It’s extremely specialized, not something a lawyer in general practice usually becomes involved with because it changes constantly. It’s something you have to do on a daily basis or you just can’t keep up. Tax law would be a similar area of law. “Baton Rouge has a large portion of aliens, but maybe no larger than any other town this size. The per- sons I know seem to be a lot of professional people more than blue- collar workers.

They are generally pretty well educated. It’s just like our forefathers – they are people who want to better themselves.

“A person couldn’t come here unless they have a job offer or a permanent job through labor certification said Flynn. The law Is designed to protect American residents’ jobs and unite families” There Is an annual quota of 200000 visas issued to foreign nationals who want to come to the United States and apply for permanent residency, the preliminary step to becoming a U.S. citizen.

The preference system is divided into six categories, with unmarried children 21-years-old or older of permanent residents considered first, followed by permanent residents’ spouses and unmarried children of any age; those professionals whose new employers have obtained labor certification for them; married sons and daughters of citizens; sisters and brothers of citizens; and those who have labor certification, but who aren’t professionals, Flynn said.

“These people come here to work, construct something, better themselves and their families. Their attitude is that they appreciate this country so much more than people born here

“If they had a negative attitude, they wouldn’t be here. ‘Do nothing’ people don’t come here – they don’t make the effort.”

Let your congressional representatives know what harmful immigration laws do to your pocketbook, to your family, to our economy - click on the link below to contact them on important issues affecting all of us.