The United States’ Well-Kept Secret: Detaining Vulnerable Women and Children

The United States’ Well-Kept Secret: Detaining Vulnerable Women and Children

By: Samantha Poon

“no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.”

Excerpt from “Home” by Warsan Shire

A rural Texan town with a population of 4,000 people sits a few hours from the United States-Mexico border. This small town houses a privately-owned family detention center. At this center, women and children are imprisoned for fleeing their homes that are the mouths of sharks; these are women and children who ran for the border and saw other families running as well.

In 2014, the Obama administration waged a war on Central American mothers and children fleeing from the Northern Triangle—namely, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In their home countries, gang members accost, threaten, and harass young women to be their “girlfriends.” Drug cartels recruit boys, as young as ten years old, at schools to sell drugs. Local gangs routinely extort land and business owners for a “war tax.” The police watch silently as these unspeakable horrors occur.

To escape these terrifying scenarios, women and children journey to the United States. Along the way, some will encounter human traffickers, others will face rapists; most will have to brave extreme weather conditions as they cross miles of desert without proper access to nourishment and water. Those who are able to make it to the border will present themselves at a United States port of entry. They will be rudely questioned about why they want to enter the United States. If they fail to express a fear to return to their country, the women and children will be turned away and forced to make the dangerous trip back home. The fortunate who are able to express fear are rounded up and allowed to continue their journey into the United States, wading through legal and structural hoops and barriers.

After immigration processing, the women and children are transferred to the privately-owned family detention centers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with private prison companies to build prison facilities for these women and children. These private prisons profit from detaining traumatized mothers and frightened children. Women and children are given ironically colorful uniforms and guards escort them around all day. They are treated as prisoners in the so-called land of the free. Their only crime? Attempting to escape the horrendous conditions in their home countries.

At the family detention centers, the women and children will go through an initial asylum screening interview, known as the credible fear interview. During this interview with an asylum officer, the women and children must divulge some of the worst experiences in their lives. Raw stories of women experiencing abuse by partners, mothers watching their daughters raped by gang members, children witnessing beloved family members gunned down by mercenaries, studious young boys forced to drop out of school by active gang recruiters. The mothers are re-traumatized in telling their stories to a stranger, who communicates in a language they do not understand. If the asylum officer decides that the mother and child have expressed a credible fear of returning to their country, the asylum office will allow them to pursue their asylum application in immigration court. If the asylum officer decides that the mother and child have not expressed adequate fear or suffered sufficient persecution, the mother and child will be deported.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The Statute of Liberty has long stood as a welcoming symbol for immigrants. However, at its core, family detention centers contradict the very notions of American freedom and liberty. Instead of helping women to breathe free, we suffocate them, shove them into prisons, and force them to relive their trauma. We treat them as inmates. When they are unable to navigate the complicated legal standards of an asylum, we expel the tired, poor, and huddled mass.

In a new Trump administration of immigration priorities, only time will tell whether family detention centers will grow or dissipate. The rate of private prison contracts is increasing in this administration, and immigration has become a priority. However, these women and children in Dilley are not a security threat, contrary to the current anti-immigrant rhetoric. The fight to end family detention persists, and lawyers play a crucial role in this battle.

This article is written by Samantha Poon as part of the Journal of Law & Policy’s Student Summer Series, which highlights work that Wake Forest Law students performed over their summer. Samantha Poon worked with women and children who were detained at these detention facilities. 

Understanding the Unrepresented: How Therapeutic Jurisprudence Shapes America’s Patent Court

Understanding the Unrepresented: How Therapeutic Jurisprudence Shapes America’s Patent Court 

By Yawara Ng

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has three methods to dispose of cases: precedential opinions, non-precedential opinions, and affirmances without a written opinion. The last method is codified under Federal Circuit Rule 36 (“Rule 36”). Rule 36 allows the Federal Circuit to adjudicate over cases that are either completely without merit or split opinions that are not meant to be precedential, conserving judicial efficiency. As the national federal docket has risen dramatically over the years, judicially effective mechanisms appear more sound. However, judicial efficiency can come at the expense of individuals with no understanding of the law—particularly as the Federal Circuit has increased its use of Rule 36 affirmances.

Coinciding with the increase in the national docket is the surge of pro se litigants at the federal level. Due to a pro se litigants’ unfamiliarity with both the law and court procedures, many are disadvantaged from the onset; and the vast majority of pro se appeals are doomed to fail. Since 1995, the administrative office of U.S. Courts has commissioned the federal judiciary to document the number of pro se cases in the federal appellate system. However, the federal judiciary has declined to include America’s newest appellate court—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit—in its statistical analysis; thus creating an imperfect picture of how pro se cases affect the federal docket. The Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over individual claims against the sovereign; yet, there is an absence of information regarding how the Court treats the unrepresented. Therefore, this blog will analyze one way the Federal Circuit adjudicates pro se cases by looking at its use of Rule 36 affirmances, and how it embodies “therapeutic jurisprudence.”

Pro se cases at the Federal Circuit are rarely heard on oral arguments and are usually decided on the briefs. Initially, I thought that the majority of meritless pro se cases would be disposed of through Rule 36 affirmances. However, this is not the case. In fact, pursuant to a WestLaw search, Rule 36 affirmances are rare in pro se cases, as indicated by the charts below. [1]


Beginning in 1993, the therapeutic jurisprudence movement focuses on the law’s impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of people. Advocates of therapeutic jurisprudence view lawyers and judges as therapeutic agents with the potential to heal the aggrieved rather than pedantic legal scholars removed from the human experience. However, therapeutic jurisprudence is not a “feel good” application of the law but a philosophical guideline that upholds the law while recognizing human realities.

In this vein, the Federal Circuit appears to apply the tenants of therapeutic jurisprudence in its rulings. Rather than disposing of meritless claims, the Federal Circuit addresses each claim individually unless a black and white procedural issue barred the court from having jurisdiction over the case. By engaging with the appellant, the Federal Circuit demonstrates to the unrepresented that while the ruling may not be in their favor, it is in accordance with the law and their argument was heard. By avoiding Rule 36 affirmances, the court displays a form of judicial altruism. Writing opinions for meritless decisions takes time and may contravene judicial efficiency, but doing so gives appellants a sense of finality. Avoiding opinions via Rule 36 could embitter individuals pining for judicial relief and disrupt their psychological well-being. While the outcome may not be what non-lawyers sought after, providing a reason is, in my view, more therapeutic than having them feel ignored.

[1] For the graphs, I conducted a Westlaw search with the following search string: adv: CO(fed) & DA(bef 1/01/20XX) & DA(aft 01/01/20YY) with the “attorney” field filtered with “pro se.” Afterwards, I filtered the results with “fed! Cir! R! 36” to compare.

Spring 2017 Symposium Approved for 4 CLE Credit Hours


This year’s symposium, “Disrupting the Death Care Paradigm: Challenges to the Regulation of the Funeral Industry and the American Way of Death,” will be held on Friday, February 24, 2017, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in Room 1312, Worrell Professional Center, Wake Forest University School of Law. Attendees will receive four general CLE credits by the North Carolina Bar.

Read more about the program, including the agenda and registration information, on the “2017 Spring Symposium” page.

There have been a number of academic conferences addressing death and deathcare, but this symposium is unique because it is focused on the very active legal, political, and grassroots challenges to the funeral industry and the dominant paradigm of death care in this country. There are two main fronts of challenge to the existing paradigm – first, from those primarily concerned with the occupational licensing regime that shapes the funeral industry and the choices available to the public (i.e. court challenges to the casket laws and the ready to embalm laws); and second, from those primarily concerned with promoting new methods of memorialization and disposition. Caitlin Doughty, a funeral director, well-known voice in the Death Positivist movement, and the author of a New York Times best-selling book on this topic, will also give a keynote address on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 6:00 PM.

Contact: Erica Oates, Symposium Editor:

Juvenile Crime: A Call for Rehabilitation, Not Recidivism

Juvenile Crime: A Call for Rehabilitation, Not Recidivism

By Shomik Gibson

Imagine yourself in a middle school hallway walking with your best friend when suddenly an intimidating, older student begins to physically bully your best friend. You can choose one of three options: one, find a teacher; two, stand idly by while your friend is bullied and hope for it to end; or three protect your friend. What would you do? Children who choose the last option, like Chad, can easily find themselves placed into juvenile detention centers and later taken from their homes for months.

The American juvenile justice system (“juvey”) is expansive. We live in a time where school administrators quickly send students straight to juvey without taking less pervasive steps and without warning the students’ guardians. Gone are the days of warnings and second chances. Gone are the days of considering whether a first time “offender” like Chad had reason for his actions.

Once sent to juvey, unlike an adult trial, the juvenile may not get a fair day in court. Juveniles face biased judges and judges who receive kickbacks. While the end goal of the juvenile detention system has always been juvenile rehabilitation, these judges are primarily concerned about their own self-interests. Chad’s probation officer assured Chad’s mother that she did not need an attorney for Chad, and adamantly assured her that Chad would be released. The probation officer failed to consider the possibility that the judge was receiving kickbacks from sending juveniles to the detention center. This type of judicial bias violates the juvenile’s right to a fair trial and deprives the child and his familial guardians of family unity.

It is imperative when dealing with juveniles that judges consider rehabilitation that prevents recidivism. Juvenile judges must consider factors surrounding and influencing the child, such as the home environment. In the case of Chad, Chad had lost his live-in grandmother the day before the incident, and he had lost his aunt the year before. These two deaths influenced Chad’s handling of the incident, but the judge never heard these factors.

A recent study showed that childhood trauma could drastically contribute to the likelihood of a child taking drugs and alcohol or becoming violent. The study explained, “[T]hat the solution to helping [the child] heal so that they won’t commit more crime is to help [the child] resolve their underlying issues instead of putting them in a system that further traumatizes them.” In situations like Chad’s, separating the child from their family is not a solution. In other more serious cases, the system must provide mental health evaluations and counseling in the hopes of rehabilitating juveniles, instead of locking them into the isolation of detention that subjects them to more trauma such as sexual assault and additional violence.

Once juveniles enter juvenile detention centers the mentality is usually “[w]e’re detention, we’re pre-adjudicated, we don’t do treatment.” Therefore, by the time juveniles are sentenced and placed into a juvenile detention center, it is too late. The juvenile detention system simply treats these juveniles like correctional facilities treat adults; it treats them like criminals.

Therefore, if our judges, as the gatekeepers and deciders of our childrens’ futures, do not protect the juvenile’s best interest, then who will? The juvenile judges have a special role in understanding the problems facing each individual juvenile and determining a plan of rehabilitation, not incarceration.

KFC Sued Because Chicken Isn’t Overflowing: The Problem of Scant Complaints and a New Civil Procedure

KFC Sued Because Chicken Isn’t Finger-Licking Overflowing: The Problems of Scant Complaints and a New Civil Procedure

By Stephanie Criscione

This past week, a customer filed a lawsuit against Kentucky Fried Chicken (“KFC”) claiming the television ads KFC released for its “$20 Fill-Up” promotion were false advertising. Anna Wurtzburger, the plaintiff and a woman from the suburbs of Manhattan, is seeking damages of $20 million. Ms. Wurtzburger claims that the KFC $20-Fill Up commercials show an overflowing bucket of chicken, whereas the bucket she purchased contained small pieces of chicken that only filled the bucket about halfway. The five-page complaint barely lists any of the claims or even the facts in dispute other than the plaintiff’s belief that the commercials were deceptive.


(Image) The KFC Logo

Wurtzburger v. KFC is exemplary of inherently unsuccessful consumer cases. The complaints in these types of cases generally do not have the proper elements to survive a Twombly challenge. The overzealous and expedited nature of the complaints in these cases makes them exceptionally more susceptible to a procedural dismissal for a failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Claims like Ms. Wurtzburger’s are unlikely to survive a motion to dismiss. An understanding of the minimal requirements that every complaint must have would get a potentially successful plaintiff, such as Ms. Wurtzburger, to the discovery phase. In a world where more consumer lawsuits survive a motion to dismiss, the ensuing bad press in connection with those claims would help address issues related to the potentially deceptive business practices of larger corporations. A single, successful consumer lawsuit can positively alter how a corporation treats its customers, even if the press surrounding those claims is negative.

Ms. Wurtzburger’s complaint is riddled with problems and gaps that a drafter should avoid in order to survive the Twombly “plausible” hurdle. Under Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, a complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions . . . [and/or] a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” A successful complaint must state enough “[f]actual allegations . . . to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The plaintiff’s complaint in Wurtzburger v. KFC does not cite the section of the New York Business Code under which relief can be sought, nor does it reach beyond legal conclusions and provide enough factual allegations to bring forth deceptive practices and false advertising claims.

The complaint also lists KFC’s principal place of business as New York, likely relying on the address where the plaintiff purchased her meal. Yet, several opinions and complaints properly list Kentucky as KFC’s principal place of business. This unfortunate oversight augments the complaint’s insufficiency under Twombly: If the complaint does not factually label and address the defendant, can there truly be a claim for relief?

sign_for_the_first_kfc_restaurant_mar_16(Image) The very first KFC location in South Salt Lake, Utah

This KFC complaint sheds light on a bigger issue in the American legal system: the time and client pressure associated with consumer complaints. Without the basic fundamentals included in a complaint, the case is unlikely to survive, and a possible meritorious claim will be dismissed before the issues can even be addressed. The answer may lie in more prevalent usage of Rule 11 sanctions. Truthfully, the use of Rule 11 in consumer suits is a double-edged sword; more forceful use of Rule 11 in these cases runs the risk of discouraging consumer complaints that should be filed and seen to fruition. Despite the chance of setting a precedent unfavorable to consumers, it remains important to reserve Rule 11 sanctions for only the most egregious infractions. Courts should not permit scant complaints and other submissions, should give them little attention, and they should be subject to immediate dismissal. Cases like Wurtzburger v. KFC should be susceptible to Rule 11.


The Failure of United States Asylum Law: Women Fleeing Domestic Violence Sent Back to Their Persecutors

The Failure of United States Asylum Law: Women Fleeing Domestic Violence Sent Back to Their Persecutors

By Samantha Poon

Ms. Garcia is a young Honduran woman who went out for a night of dancing with her friends. There, she met a seemingly nice man and they soon after began dating. Eight months later, the nice man she met at a bar became her oppressor, her persecutor, her abuser. Ms. Garcia inadvertently began dating a drug dealer who beat, raped, electrocuted, and starved her. He locked her in his house, threatened to kill her, attempted to drown her, and brought her to the brink of death on multiple occasions. She was hospitalized multiple times from the physical and sexual abuse. When Ms. Garcia attempted to go to the police, they scoffed and told her that they refused to intervene in a relationship with a drug lord; her abuser had actually bribed the police to stay away. Finally, Ms. Garcia fled to the United States seeking asylum as a battered refugee. Unfortunately for Ms. Garcia and many other women in similar situations, asylum law in the United States did not favor her case. Her asylum claim was denied.

While the above plight of Ms. Garcia may be fictional, it is reflective of many asylum-seekers fleeing domestic violence. According to the World Health Organization, global domestic violence is pervasive: one in three women have faced physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Ms. Garcia’s case is, tragically, quite common. Sometimes, the success of an asylum claim is truly the difference between freedom and a lifetime of abuse, between life and death.


(Image) Central and South American women attempt to extricate themselves from the vicious cycle of domestic violence by seeking asylum in the United States. Currently, the United States does not broadly recognize asylum protection for these women.

Why, then, does the United States deny the asylum claims of women fleeing domestic violence? It’s due to statutory technicality of sorts. The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), which governs asylum law, defines a refugee as an individual who is from another country and “is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Victims of domestic violence are protected because of their “membership in a particular social group.”

No protected class designation is as heavily litigated as membership in a particular social group because of the vague intent of the class within the statue. Currently, the law arising from immigration courts and the corresponding appellate court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), does not broadly recognize women fleeing domestic violence as a “particular social group.” In a long-awaited case, Matter of A-R-C-G-, the BIA reasoned that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave a relationship” could constitute a cognizable particular social group. However, this is the only precedential case that truly recognizes women fleeing domestic violence as a valid particular social group.

Despite its relative significance, Matter of A-R-C-G- has serious limitations for women fleeing domestic violence. Primarily, the decision can be read extremely narrow to only include married women from Guatemala. This excludes women from virtually any other country. It excludes unmarried women, such as Ms. Garcia. This iteration of a particular social group excludes women who leave a violent relationship but are still stalked or otherwise harmed by their abusers. Immigration judges have held that these very factors distinguish cases from Matter of A-R-C-G- and have rejected such asylum claims based on domestic violence. Thus, Matter of A-R-C-G- opens the door to domestic violence-based claims, but does not permit passage for all who attempt to cross the threshold.

While the BIA is moving towards a more acceptable standard for women facing domestic violence, refugees like Ms. Garcia may remain unprotected under United States asylum law. The spirit of asylum law is aimed towards humanitarian relief. The BIA must move to conform its decisions to line up with this spirit and protect women fleeing tragic situations of domestic violence.