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In Wake of Decision, Immigration Clinic Co-Directors Highlight Realities of Asylum Process

Tuesday, June 19, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Last week, a decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions narrowed the qualifications for granting asylum, sparking outcry among attorneys and immigration rights activists. The 31-page decision now allows courts to deny asylum “pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors.” This move means potentially tens of thousands of immigrants can be denied asylum for what Law360 calls “private crimes,” or claims on the grounds of gang violence, domestic violence or anti-LGBTQ crimes.

Among those attorneys and activists speaking out is co-director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at UDC Law Professor Lindsay M. Harris. In a VICE News article by Meredith Hoffman, Harris calls the decision “fairly huge,” offering that domestic violence claims account for at least 50 percent of current asylum claims. Following last Monday’s decision, Harris said, “People who would have gotten protection earlier today in immigration court will not be granted it tomorrow.”

Harris offers some hope for people seeking asylum after the decision by Sessions. Masood Farivar writes in Voice of America that lawyers for the “Salvadoran woman at the center of the ruling” by the attorney general plan to challenge the decision, and Harris expects an appeals court to overturn it. However, Harris, who in addition to co-directing the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic is also vice chair of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association’s National Asylum and Refugee Liaison Committee, cautions that if it is overturned, the ruling would not affect the precedent set by Sessions outside the appeals court’s jurisdiction. Harris explained, “We’ll need to overturn it one by one throughout the country in other jurisdictions.”

“The attorney general is certainly trying to do his best to push quick denials and to circumvent due process for asylum seekers,” Harris told Law360 (subscription required). She prepares clinic clients for a variety of possible outcomes, noting that while the ruling makes it more difficult, asylum is still possible for victims of “private crimes.” “Lawyers will continue to fight for these survivors – who deserve protection just as much as individuals fleeing religious or political persecution – and judges who carefully apply the law will still be able to grant,” said Harris.

Featured in a VICE News video, Maria, a UDC Law Immigration Clinic client granted asylum in 2017 after being brutally beaten and raped by an ex-partner, shared that the violence she escaped was “very extreme.” When asked if she reported the abuse, Maria said the local police did nothing. “They make fun of you,” she explained, “or they tell you, ‘We’ll file the report because you are here, but you are going to go back to him either way. You like to be hit.”

Harris, who worked with Professor Kristina Campbell to supervise students who represented Maria in her asylum proceedings, said, “The reality is that women like ‘Maria’ arriving at the border today will in all likelihood – unless they’re very lucky – be immediately deported.”

She added, “Without a doubt if a woman in another country is going to be killed because she’s a woman, that’s exactly what the refugee convention is supposed to protect.”

Along with Harris, the UDC Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic is co-directed by Professor Kristina Campbell. Recently, Campbell spoke to her alma mater Notre Dame about the work of the clinic, particularly those seeking asylum. “These clients are disenfranchised in every way possible. They’re not citizens, they can’t vote, they don’t speak English so they can’t really navigate the system, and they need help,” she told Josh Stowe. She added that a number of clients “have post-traumatic stress disorder and all other manner of trauma, but they find jobs, their kids enroll in school and learn English very fast, they’re active participants in their cases, and they’re very, very grateful.” Now these clients face the mounting challenges of last week’s ruling, making the work of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at UDC Law all the more important.

Students at UDC Law participate in one of the nation’s top-ranked clinical programs, providing them with experience in helping to resolve actual legal disputes. Under the guidance of attorney-professors like Harris and Campbell, students gain a better understanding of the law they learn in the classroom and leave the program with the significant advantage of real practical experience. The Immigration and Human Rights Clinic provides students with experience working on cases much like that of the Salvadoran woman at the heart of last week’s decision as well as providing legal services to people who are detained, facing deportation or confronted with a host of immigration issues.

The work is both rewarding and challenging, but Campbell believes it’s worth it. “You’re supposed to use your power and privilege in a way that matters, to be a voice for the voiceless, and I can’t think of any other better way to do it,” Campbell told Stowe. She added that there is an emotional toll. “We have to ask them to relive the most horrible things that have ever happened to them because that’s what you have to do to get asylum—it’s your burden to prove that you would be persecuted if you returned to your country, so we have to be extremely specific.”

To learn more about last week’s ruling and its impact on asylum claims, visit the following:


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