More than five months into the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, not a single asylum seeker has been granted refuge in the United States as migrants struggle to find legal representation, according to a new report.
The report published Monday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse — or TRAC — at Syracuse University reviewed immigration court records from January to the end of June. Researchers found that of the 1,155 Remain in Mexico cases that have been decided, only 14 of them had legal representation — that is just 1.2 percent.
“Clearly, the record thus far is that very few asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico have been able to secure representation for their upcoming immigration court proceedings,” the report states.
In immigration court, the government is not required to provide applicants with free legal counsel. Migrants have the right to an attorney as long as they can afford to hire one or find one willing to take their cases for free.
Legal representation greatly increases someone’s chances of being granted asylum. Data shows that applicants represented by attorneys are five times more likely to receive asylum than applicants without, according to TRAC.
Under the Remain in Mexico policy — officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP — asylum seekers who show a credible fear of persecution in their home countries are sent to Mexico to await asylum proceedings in the U.S.
Previously, asylum seekers who passed the credible fear interview were allowed to wait in the United States, usually in a detention facility or with family members.
San Diego based-immigration attorneys weren’t surprised by the lack of legal representation available to asylum seekers.
“There is a daily desperate call for attorneys to help,” said immigration lawyer Andrew Nietor. “There are various Listservs and Facebook groups that attorneys who take on asylum cases belong to and it’s now a daily plea. ‘Can someone take an MPP case? Is anyone available to help?'”
In San Diego, most of the lawyers representing asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program work for nonprofits like Jewish Family Service, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties or Al Otro Lado.
For private immigration attorneys like Nietor, the logistical hurdles or representing someone who lives in another country are too much to overcome.
Asylum cases are some of the most time consuming and complex cases in immigration court. Typically, an attorney meets with a client several times because they need to build trust, corroborate the persecution by reaching out to other family members, and ask for police or medical records from the home country.
“By their nature, asylum cases involve very personal stories of persecution, abuse, often torture and rape,” Nietor said. “So it’s not the sort of conversation somebody should have from a public phone in a homeless shelter to a faceless attorney in another country.”
Additionally, meeting one client in Tijuana would take an entire day when factoring
in the travel time, he added.
The lack of legal representation in Remain in Mexico appears to be having an impact on the outcome of those cases.
Since Remain in Mexico was introduced in January, not a single asylum seeker has been granted asylum or any other form of immigration relief, data shows.
It should be noted that only 1,155 Remain in Mexico cases have been decided, and there are more than 12,900 cases pending.
Of the 1,155 cases that have been decided, 285 have resulted in removal orders — meaning the applicant is ordered to be deported.
The vast majority of those removal orders have been granted in absentia because the applicant did not show up to court. Only 21 Remain in Mexico cases have resulted in removal orders because of the merits of the asylum claim. None of those cases had legal representation, according to TRAC.
The other cases were closed because of a variety of reasons, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers not properly notifying applicants of a court hearing, data shows.
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