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Spotlight on legal challenges facing asylum seekers

Monday, July 13, 2015

(Washington, D.C.) July 13, 2015 — In recent years, an increasing number of Central Americans have migrated north to the United States, reaching peak numbers in the summer of 2014. Of particular concern has been the increase in the number of unaccompanied and separated migrant children from the Northern Triangle of Central America — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. 

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and U.S.-based Jesuit law schools have engaged in efforts to respond to the number of children and families from Central America seeking protection, and are jointly committed to collaboratively expanding efforts to address this critical issue. In particular, Jesuit law schools are active through research, training, outreach and education, and direct legal representation. The findings of this joint effort are elaborated upon in the report: A Fair Chance for Due Process: Challenges in Legal Protection for Central American Asylum Seekers and Other Vulnerable Migrants

In April 2015, JRS/USA surveyed 13 U.S.-based Jesuit law schools regarding their work in this area. As a result, Jesuit law schools identified a series of challenges in representing asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants, including:

• Procedural challenges in managing a mandated expedited docket for these migrants.

• Legal challenges posed by limitations in the acceptance of gang-related violence claims.

• Logistical challenges related to consistent and reliable access to clients and courts.

• Challenges accessing counseling and support services for clients.

To address these challenges, JRS/USA and Jesuit Law Schools recommend the following policy changes:

• Guarantee Legal Representation for Minors — We urge Congress to introduce and pass legislation that guarantees legal representation and access to a child advocate for every unaccompanied minor.

• Increase Resources for Legal Representation — We urge the White House and Congress to support a substantial increase in resources in the FY16 Federal Budget for programs that provide greater access to legal representation for unaccompanied minors and asylum applicants.

• Stop Expedited Processing for Children & Families — We urge the White House, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security to reverse their policy on expedited processing for unaccompanied minors and families from Central America.

• Recognize Gang-Based Asylum Claims — We urge the USCIS Asylum Offices and the Board of Immigration Appeals to recognize asylum claims involving gang violence.

• Track Jurisprudence on Gang-Based Asylum Cases — We urge legal service providers, including law schools and non-governmental organizations, to begin to compile a database of, and track decisions on, gang-based claims.  

• Minimize Transfer of Clients and Increase Access to Transportation Services — We urge the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to focus on the best interest of the child when considering their placement upon arrival in the U.S. and to minimize the transfer of clients in order to avoid interruption of access to legal services. We also call on State and Local organizations to consider ways to increase access to transportation services for those navigating the legal process.

• Recognize Signs of Trauma & Provide Access to Counseling Services — We urge the courts to offer training to judges in recognizing and understanding trauma, and to consider trauma when making their determinations. We also encourage the Department of Health and Human Services, State officials, and Local officials to increase access to counseling services for this vulnerable population.

• Reform the U.S. Detention System — We urge the White House and Congress to consider alternative measures to detention, including supervised release, case management, and community support programs, that will serve to ensure court appearances and due process.

• Provide Additional Avenues of Relief — We urge the White House, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to expand the available avenues of relief for asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants.  This includes taking all possible measures to begin admissions under the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program; considering new Temporary Protected Status for the Northern Triangle countries of Central America; and pursuing efforts for comprehensive immigration reform that prioritizes the best interest of the child.

Addressing the needs of migrants seeking protection and refuge in the U.S. is a complex and multi-layered issue. While these challenges, and related recommendations, do not address all of the issues related to this topic, we share them in an effort to provide testimony to what these migrants are currently facing as they navigate the legal system upon their arrival in the U.S. This also serves as a call to action to Jesuit law schools and the larger community to continue, as well as increase, investments in serving this vulnerable population.

The full report is available here.

Participating law schools are: Boston College, Creighton University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, Loyola University Chicago (in close collaboration with the Center for the Human Rights of Children housed at Loyola University Chicago), Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Loyola University New Orleans, Saint Louis University (in close collaboration with the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry housed at Saint Louis University), Santa Clara University, Seattle University, University of Detroit Mercy, and University of San Francisco.

Download the report.