In 1979 the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) began as a group of volunteer attorneys and law students active in leftist causes in the San Francisco Bay Area. Responding to the wave of refugees fleeing the war and repression caused by the Communist movements in Central America during the 1980s, ILRC joined the sanctuary movement and sought to establish legal precedents in political asylum law that would open the door to these refugees. The sanctuary movement was closely tied to leftist support for the communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
After the Sandinistas’ electoral defeat in 1990 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union the following year, the sanctuary movement faded away. ILRC, however, continues to work for the legalization of those refugees who came to the U.S. during the Central American civil wars of the 1980s. ILRC’s efforts are founded on the provisions of the 1997 Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which provides various forms of immigration benefits and exemption from deportation to certain Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries and their dependents.
As of January 2004, ILRC claimed to have helped gain amnesty for some three million illegal immigrants in the U.S. ILRC staff attorneys provide on-site and telephone consultation, training workshops and seminars, and educational curricula on immigration issues to pro-bono attorneys and nonprofit agencies serving immigrants from all Third World backgrounds throughout the United States.
ILRC also offers litigation support in select cases; this includes representing clients, filing amicus briefs, serving as expert witnesses, and providing analysis of rules and laws, both proposed and enacted. One focus is to ensure that indigent non-citizens who are accused of crimes receive due process and adequate representation in their court hearings and protection from “immigration consequences” (deportation).
ILRC has trained more than 800 nonprofit personnel and attorneys in areas of immigration law such as naturalization, deportation defense, ethics, and Delayed Enforced Departure. In addition, from 1999 to 2004 ILRC’s National Immigrant Paralegal Training Project trained over 1,200 nonprofit staff people in basic immigration law and deportation hearing skills.
On the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, ILRC Executive Director Susan B. Lyndon stated, “Twelve months after terrorism struck on U.S. soil, I’m sobered to find myself living in a country that feels less than American to me.” She then listed what she considered to be injustices that the American government had enacted in the name of national security: “Proposed rules that would require immigrants (from Muslim countries only) to check themselves into police stations. An initiative to proactively hunt down people (once again from Muslim countries only) with outstanding deportation orders for immigration violations. Even a proposal to enlist citizen spies as informers against neighbors they suspect to be terrorists. From my standpoint as a civil rights advocate, these measures are unconstitutional.”
ILRC was a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress to oppose the second Patriot Act. In addition, ILRC has given its organizational endorsement to the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign, a project of the California-based Coalition for Civil Liberties which tries to influence city councils to pass resolutions creating Civil Liberties Safe Zones; that is, to be non-compliant with the provisions of the Patriot Act.
ILRC endorsed the December 18, 2001 “Statement of Solidarity with Migrants,” which was drawn up by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The statement called upon the U.S. government to “[r]ecognize the contribution of immigrant workers, students, and families, and [to] end discriminatory policies passed on the basis of legal status in the wake of September 11”; and to “[g]uarantee and provide relief to the loved ones of the victims and those unemployed in the World Trade Center attacks, regardless of immigration status, without intimidation or threat of deportation.”
ILRC endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA) of 2004, which was introduced by Democratic Senators Jon Corzine, Richard Durbin, Russell Feingold, Ted Kennedy, and Patrick Leahy, and Democratic Representatives Howard Berman and William Delahunt. The CLRA was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
ILRC also endorsed the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 introduced by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy; the Act would allow up to 400,000 non-citizens to enter the U.S. each year to work, and would offer them an opportunity to pursue legal residency.
A leading attorney for ILRC is Mark Silverman, who, according to radio broadcaster Michael Savage, “stifled the will of the people [of California] by preventing [Proposition 187] from becoming law.” (Proposition 187 was a 1994 legal initiative designed to deny illegal immigrants in California access to social services, health care services, and free public education. It passed with 59 percent of the vote but was overturned in a federal court, largely as a result of Silverman’s efforts.) Says Mr. Savage: “Silverman teaches courses on how get around various aspects of immigration law; including ‘winning asylum cases, winning suspension cases and so on’ and he is very proud of his work on behalf of illegals.”
ILRC has received funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, and the Open Society Institute, among others. As of 2004, the organization’s net assets were $1,717,490. Also in 2004, ILRC received $1,571,591 in grants from various foundations.
Portions of this profile were adapted from the article “The Open Borders Lobby and the Nation’s Security After 9/11, Part Two,” written by William Hawkins and Erin Anderson, and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on January 22, 2004.