Since 2005, I’ve taken an annual Austin trip for a music festival and to visit friends. The pandemic put a kibosh on my yearly tradition, ending something that was consistently the same in my life. This year, I did not feel comfortable in most large crowds of people but I still felt somewhat okay attending a punk show in Austin. The pandemic has warped everyone’s rationality. It was during this punk show that I felt like a teenager again watching folks in the mosh pit. It also made me think about asylum law.
For those uninitiated in mosh pit etiquette, it appears to be chaos from the outside. I think for those practitioners with little to no asylum law experience, the same could be said. You have the pit with folks surrounding it on all sides. These folks want nothing to do with the pit. They’re content to let it just thrive on its own as long as it doesn’t impact them. But, sometimes the pit grows as folks in it reach out and bring in the onlookers.
This is exactly what happened with asylum law in the United States. I’ve known many immigration attorneys that have no desire to handle an asylum case. However, the last five years with the previous administration and the rhetoric on the news has made it near to impossible to ignore.
Those folks in the pit, in my eyes, are representative of asylum law and those practicing it. It is pretty self-contained with practitioners working within the confines of asylum based upon international legal standards from the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. Asylum attorneys are pushed and shoved and dancing around to help get their clients’ cases approved. And as asylum attorneys, we strangely enjoy this chaotic dance.
Some folks just like to jump around while others like to push around and others like to release their pent-up energy. The beauty of the mosh pit that people who don’t partake cannot see is that whenever someone is knocked down, everyone stops to immediately help that person get up and protect them from being trampled. It may look chaotic but it’s a community. We help one another out. The same goes for attorneys practicing asylum law.
Unfortunately, there are folks that have depraved intentions to hurt others in the pit. They have their boots laced up ready to stomp on anyone in their vicinity and their arms are swinging quickly and erratically, almost windmill-like, with only the desire to create as much hurt as possible. They take everything a little too far and everyone knows it. These folks are like the policies enacted by previous administrations with the clear intention of chipping away at the protections afforded in precedent asylum cases, laws, policies, and regulations.
Ultimately, everyone else in the pit bands together to push these outliers away and protect the folks being targeted by them. And then it happens. That beautiful moment where everything and everyone is in step in the pit. Folks start running around counter-clockwise, dancing and bouncing around in a circle at the same rhythm and pace and just feeling the song, the band and the vibes in absolute contentment and joy.
I saw that the other night at the punk show and it reminded me that asylum law, at its foundation, is like that perfect moment in the pit when everyone comes together running and singing and dancing and bouncing around in sync. No matter how often those outliers want to destroy asylum law and wear down those working in the field with their antics, asylum law’s foundations to protect the most vulnerable are strong.
With that being said, I am proud to have chaired AILA’s Asylum Online Course that just debuted. Our committee is comprised of the most-experienced and diversely-experienced members to create a course that is for those who always wanted to handle an asylum case but didn’t feel that they had a strong base of knowledge for it and for those who have handled some of these cases but want more of a refresher.
To those beginners to intermediate level practitioners, stop standing outside looking in, just watching those of us in the mosh pit. Join us in the pit and really experience the joy of it all. You’ll leave having stepped outside your comfort zone, seeing the beauty of it all when it comes together, and getting the most rewarding experience when you save someone’s life, which is what asylum law is all about.