Asked & Answered: Rachel Settlage on Immigration

 A new book, “Immigration Relief: Legal Assistance for Noncitizen Crime Victims,” was published recently by the American Bar Association. Wayne State University Law School Assistant Professor Rachel Settlage is co-author of the book. Before joining the school, she served as a clinical fellow with the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. Settlage also has practiced law at the Asylum Program of Southern Arizona; served as a senior researcher at the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian; and served as a foreign affairs officer/senior editor at the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. She earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, master’s degree from Georgetown University and bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Thorpe: When and how did you decide that a book like this was needed? Who do you see as the audience?
Settlage: We wanted to write a book that explores the link between crime and immigration law from the viewpoint of the victims. Much has been written for criminal law practitioners on the immigration consequences that attach to noncitizen perpetrators of crime. However, there was a need for a comprehensive look at the range of immigration remedies available to extremely vulnerable immigrant victims of crimes involved with the criminal justice system.
Thus, this book outlines current relief options available for victims of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, trafficking, persecution and other crimes. This includes information on remedies such as the Violence Against Women Act, Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Trafficking Visas and U Nonimmigrant Status.
This knowledge is important for everyone who works with or assists immigrant victims of crime, including attorneys, prosecutors, judges, legal assistants, social workers and law enforcement officers.
Thorpe: Tell us about your co-authors.
Settlage: Elizabeth Campbell is a clinical assistant professor of law in the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. She represents victims of human trafficking in a variety of legal areas, including immigration, family, housing, public benefits and victims’ rights. She is a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Taskforce and is spearheading a pilot specialty court in partnership with the Washtenaw County District Courts aimed at better responding to victims of human trafficking who are arrested and/or charged with prostitution and related offenses. She earned her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.
Veronica Tobar Thronson is an associate clinical professor of law and director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the Michigan State University College of Law. From 2002 to 2010, she was the directing attorney of the Domestic Violence Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, where she practiced in the areas of family and immigration law. Previously, Thronson served as the director of training and legal services at the New York Immigration Coalition, a non-profit umbrella advocacy organization for more than 200 groups in New York that work with immigrants, refugees and asylees. She is a graduate of the City University of New York School of Law.
Thorpe: This is very much a “working” book. Tell us about some of the tools included for attorneys.
Settlage: The book outlines and explains different immigration remedies. We have provided practice tools, such as definitions of key terms and concepts, charts explaining the organization of the various agencies and departments involved in the adjudication of applications for immigration relief, checklists to ensure that the final applications for relief are complete and lists of additional resources for attorneys.
Thorpe: What are some of the difficulties non-citizens might encounter in the legal system?
Settlage: Much of this book covers domestic violence, because immigrants, particularly women and children, are at greater risk for domestic violence because of the way U.S. immigration law is structured. Immigration law is structured so that it is the U.S. citizen (USC) or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who petitions for a family member. The immigrants cannot petition on their own for immigration status based upon their family relationship. Thus, our immigration system puts the control and power in family-based immigration cases in the hands of the USC or LPR.
The U.S. immigration law framework also puts great power and control in the hands of sponsoring employers for employment-based immigration. Similarly, for trafficking victims, employers or relatives often act as sponsors and thus have absolute control over the process of immigration for the non-citizen. In an abusive or exploitative relationship, a perpetrator of crime can use this power to further abusive actions.
Thorpe: How big a role does fear play in the equation?
Settlage: Fear plays a huge role. Immigrants without lawful status fear that if they report a crime they will be deported. Some immigrants may fear or distrust the police or others because of the conditions in their home country. Perpetrators will work hard to convince a victim that any involvement with the police will result in imprisonment and deportation. Victims of violence also fear that the perpetrator, whether an abusive partner or parent or a trafficker, will further harm them for reporting. This is a fear that perpetrators fully exploit.
Lack of knowledge also plays a tremendous role. New immigrants often aren’t aware of their rights to protection and assistance in this country. Even if an immigrant wants help, she may be unaware of resources that might be available to her. Many immigrants have avenues to remain lawfully in the United States but are unaware of their options. As a result, they stay in the shadows, which limits their ability to get help and makes them vulnerable to abuses. Children are particularly vulnerable.
Finally, immigrants may be isolated due to language barriers, tight-knit communities and cultural norms about family that prevent them from seeking help.
Thorpe: What changes would you like to see in the laws to remedy the situation?
Settlage: This is one of the areas in immigration law in which Congress did a fairly good job of creating a framework for protection. However, information about these forms of relief isn’t as widely available as it should be, and, thus, many of these options are underutilized. Even some lawyers who work with immigrant victims of violence on a daily basis are unaware of all of the forms of relief that might be available. Hopefully this book will make it possible for more immigrant crime victims to find help and obtain the remedies for which they are eligible.