Gang members sexually abused his son in Honduras. When he reported the sexual abuse to the Honduran police, the police told him that there was nothing they could do to help him. The police told him his only option was to leave. Immediately after he reported the incident, the gang members came to his home, shot at him, and threatened to kill the man and his son for reporting the incident. He and his son fled Honduras and arrived at the U.S. border to seek asylum.
Once he arrived at the border, he was apprehended by border patrol and interviewed by a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer. Shortly thereafter, he and his son were detained. In the middle of the night, immigration officials took his son and would not tell the man where they were taking him. The man was then required to attend an interview and explain to an asylum officer why he qualifies for asylum while he was still separated from his son. The asylum officer asked questions such as, “Have you ever been harmed or threatened in Honduras or will you be harmed in Honduras because something about you that makes you different from other people in your country?” How he responded determined whether he was eligible to apply for asylum and remain in the U.S.
He was then transferred to the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas, where he was detained and scheduled for a removal hearing before an immigration judge. There, he would be required to testify about his experience and present evidence to corroborate his asylum claim.
He later shared with me his harrowing experience and the trauma that he and his son suffered. His story is similar to many stories of families impacted by the zero tolerance policy. Altogether, more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents before President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 halting family separation. However, hundreds of children remain separated from their parents.
Through RAICES, I was given an incredible opportunity to assist this man and provide him with a fair opportunity to be heard in court. I encourage private attorneys to provide pro bono assistance to such individuals like my client whether it be through RAICES, AILA and the Council’s Immigration Justice Campaign, or other legal non-profit organizations such as Kids in Need of Defense, Catholic Charities, or the Tahirih Justice Center. Among detained immigrants, those with representation were twice as likely as unrepresented immigrants to obtain immigration relief if they sought it (49 percent with counsel versus 23 percent without). Only 37 percent of all immigrants secured legal counsel in their removal cases and only 14 percent of detained immigrants acquired legal counsel.
Although I practice immigration law, a pro bono attorney need not have immigration experience to take on a case or provide legal assistance. Indeed, some of the most successful asylum stories come from non-immigration attorneys, and free resources are available from the Immigration Justice Campaign including mentorship and webinars. Taking on a pro bono case is a great way to gain valuable hands-on legal experience while providing access to justice to these vulnerable individuals and families.