Austin Lawyer, April 2020

Page 16

4th Friday Free Member-Only CLE Recap Asylum in the U.S.: Our History and How You Can Help BY KATE LINCOLN-GOLDFINCH AND LINDSAY GRAY

A groundswell of attorneys all across the country want to help with this humanitarian crisis, if only they could receive the proper training, mentoring, and guidance to represent these asylum seekers throughout their case. It was out of this need that VECINA, a new Austin-based nonprofit, was born in August 2019.

U.S. ASYLUM LAW HISTORY Protections for refugees fleeing persecution arose from the international failure to protect Jews fleeing the Holocaust. The 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol define a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country and cannot obtain protection in that country, due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Congress codified these protections in the Refugee Act of 1980. Under previous policy, an asylum seeker could present themselves at the border and request asylum, upon which they would be detained or released into the

United States. After expressing a fear of return to their home country, the individual would be given a “credible fear interview,” which is a preliminary screening of the person’s asylum claim. If the asylum officer found the person to have a credible fear, the asylum seeker was given a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court, and remained in the United States throughout their case. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MIGRANT PROTECTION PROTOCOLS (MPP) In one of several major blows to asylum protections, the Trump administration created and implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, in 2019. Under MPP, an individual is

given a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court immediately upon presentation at the border and expressing a fear of returning home. Instead of being detained at a facility or released into the U.S., the asylum seeker is returned to Mexico to await the completion of his or her case in court. This policy has created a humanitarian crisis. Asylum seekers stuck in Mexico often lack adequate access to safe shelter, food, work, and clothing. Several refugee camps have arisen at different ports of entry, where asylum seekers sleep in tents and depend on nonprofit organizations and volunteers for their daily needs. Cartels in Mexico frequently prey on asylum seekers. Another major consequence of MPP is lack of access to counsel. Because of logistical, financial, and geographic constraints, many asylum seekers have extreme difficulty in obtaining the assistance of a lawyer throughout the course

of their cases. Statistics show that 1-5 percent of asylum seekers subject to MPP have counsel through the trial phase of their case. And asylum seekers are five times less likely to win their cases without representation. Having a lawyer can literally mean the difference between life and death. ADDRESSING THE NEED Last summer, Austin-based immigration attorney Lindsay Gray traveled to Brownsville in preparation to cross into Mexico to assist asylum seekers. The asylum seekers were desperate to talk to an attorney. During her day in Matamoros, she met with 49 asylum seekers who had requested in writing to speak to her, but there were dozens of others who needed help as well. After returning from her trip, Gray had an idea about how to increase asylum seekers’ legal representation. Currently, asylum


Negotiate With Confidence - Our Trial Team Has Your Back Meghan Alexander | David M. Gottfried | Michael Jurgens | Tara Gillespie



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