The 18th Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the U.S., hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, took place on November 7-9 in Washington, D.C.
A record crowd of more than 1,700 students and young adults affiliated with U.S. Jesuit institutions and the larger Catholic Church participated in this year’s Teach-In. They took part in workshops and an advocacy day on Capitol Hill to learn, and advocate on behalf of, concerns related to U.S. policy on Central America, criminal justice, immigration, and climate change.
Giulia McPherson, Director of Advocacy and Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, and Jean Han, Clinical Teaching Fellow at Georgetown Law, presented a session entitled Legal Challenges Facing Central American Asylum Seekers at the Teach-In. They shared the latest data on asylum seekers arriving in the U.S. from Central America and the challenges they face in the U.S., upon arrival.
A recent report from UNHCR, Women on the Run, notes that 64% of women asylum seekers are fleeing from direct threats and attacks by criminal armed groups in their home countries. This is coupled with 48% of children seeking asylum who say they have been personally affected by criminal violence.
In addition, the lack of access to legal counsel is a significant challenge faced by asylum seekers upon their arrival in the U.S. Only 46% of the unaccompanied children going before Immigration Court are currently represented by an attorney, which leaves more than 81,000 children without legal representation. We know that, without representation, these children and families almost never prevail.
Jean Han discussed how Georgetown Law students are helping to address this gap by taking on asylum cases as part of their coursework. The Georgetown Law Center for Applied Legal Studies has 12 students per semester who work in teams of two on one asylum case, with the help of advisors. The students take on the majority of the casework and work on the case from start to finish.
Over 200 students attended the Teach-In session and engaged in a fruitful discussion on the mechanics of asylum cases, the realities of detention and how students in the U.S. can make a difference.
Teach-In attendees represented over 90 Catholic institutions in 25 states, Canada, El Salvador, and Mexico. They came from 26 Jesuit universities, over 30 Catholic high schools, parishes, and other Catholic universities. The Teach-In program also featured Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., anti-death penalty activist and New York Times bestselling author of “Dead Man Walking” and Hector Verdugo, associate executive director of Homeboy Industries.