Immigration law is one of the most complicated laws in the country, and no wonder why many lawyers stay away from it. Not only does it mean that there is only a handful of practicing immigration lawyers available, those who need their assistance need to remain in line for an unnecessarily long time.
During Trump’s administration, with the “Remain in Mexico” policy, asylum-seekers were forced to wait across the border while waiting for an available immigration lawyer. Often, they needed to stay in dangerous cities.
There are only 5.3% of these individuals who are eligible for the Migrant Protection Protocols. This policy provides lawyers to asylum seekers. With this slim figure, in 2019, the national grant rate of asylum resulted in a mere 29% success.
As a result of the pandemic and lockdown, more challenges were posed for the lawyers. They had to hold off any hearing for at least 30 days because of the ban on nonessential travel to Mexico.
One finding from the Associated Press reported that lawyers are taking on large loads of cases at a time. One Jewish Family Service in San Diego represented 68 individuals, and another advocacy center in El Paso, Texas, took on 76 cases.
Even with some legal aid groups’ advocacy, like offering free talks about asylum seekers’ rights, they still need to commit more than 50 hours of free services in a year. Other challenges they face include the lack of malpractice insurance in Mexico. Most of the applicants also do not phone with them, and they often move as well. This resulted in missing their court hearing dates. These were some of the reasons asylum seekers lost their cases.
Among their rights is to hire an attorney, but the government is not required to pay it if the client could not afford it. This is another challenge for the asylum seeker because an immigration attorney will often charge an average of $7000.
A UN survey in the last quarter of 2019 showed that around 6% of the about 650 asylum seekers were reported kidnapped. Cases of rape and assaults are also commonly heard of.
Additionally, the lawyers cannot take on some of the cases because of their gut-wrenching nature.
Homeland Security officials made way for improved access and addressed other shortcomings in the said policy.
Since January 2019, the US has closed its southern border to asylum seekers. It has sent more than 71,000 individuals to wait for the hearing of their cases. In March 2020, the US expelled migrants to Mexico more than 400,000 times.
Those applying for asylum said they did not report crimes and abuse to Mexican authorities because of fear. They were also unable to secure documents so that they can work or get health care. For more information, ask an immigration lawyer in Houston or anywhere near you.