Light a Fire 2018: Game-Changing Action

How Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Stopped a One-Way Ticket to a Death Sentence

“There’s always been this overwhelming need...but then you have the Trump administration upping the ante.”

By Hayat Norimine May 22, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Seattle Met

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NWIRP attorney Jordan Wasserman (left) worked to release Adrián Sulbaran (right)
from the Northwest Detention Center.

Image: Mike Kane

Carlos Adrián Sulbaran woke to the sound of Venezuelan military officers raiding his home. It was the middle of a warm night in the port city of Maracaibo, March 2015, and the men tore through the entrance, broke all the windows, shot up the house and killed Sulbaran’s two rottweilers. 

Sulbaran, then a Venezuelan TV reporter, remembers buckets of blood, and pieces of his dogs stuck to the walls. The officers held guns to his head and to the head of his nine-year-old niece as they questioned him about his coverage of the election that year. 

Later, after he requested a protection order in court and reported the incident on social media, the government shut down his internet and phone service. By June, Sulbaran paid hundreds of dollars for himself, his mother, sister, and niece to get out.

The family illegally crossed the U.S. border from Tijuana, Mexico, in November 2015 and asked for political asylum. That landed Sulbaran in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Desperate, he called Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, asking for an attorney. 

“There’s always been this overwhelming need, this crushing need,” says Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP. “But then you have the Trump administration upping the ante.” Since the 2016 election, the organization’s been inundated with calls. The nonprofit has rapidly stepped in to block the travel ban President Trump issued in January 2017 and helped those detained at airports. 

A day before Sulbaran’s hearing in February 2016, NWIRP attorney Jordan Wasserman showed up to take the Venezuelan’s case. For weeks, they met as Wasserman pored through 400 pages of Sulbaran’s documents and the Venezuelan government’s history of retaliation against journalists. Three months later—and six months after he was detained—Sulbaran walked away a free man. And the assistance didn’t stop there. NWIRP helped him apply for legal permanent residency, which he received last year. (His mother, who had been detained in California, was also released in 2016; his sister had been released right away.) 

Today, Sulbaran lives in Seattle with his mother and niece and works for Amazon. The news he reads coming from the White House doesn’t faze him. He tells his mother not to worry—they have protection. “I know that I can call Jordan or any other attorney in Northwest Immigrant Rights Project,” Sulbaran says. “And I know that they will help us.” 

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