In 2017 four immigration attorneys got together to address the lack of legal help available for detained asylum seekers…
“The evidence [from FY 2016] shows that having an attorney continued to be almost a necessity for winning asylum in Immigration Court.” TRAC, Continued Rise in Asylum Denial Rates: Impact of Representation and Nationality.
Research shows that unrepresented individuals fare poorly in immigration court, as compared to those with legal representation. Between 2007 and 2012, nationwide, 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). American Immigration Council, Special Report, Access to Counsel in Immigration Court (Sept. 28, 2016).
For asylum seekers the numbers are even worse: “in FY 2016 immigration judges denied these 4,515 unrepresented asylum seekers’ claims 90 percent of the time. In contrast, if represented, the odds of denial last year was 48 percent. Or stated another way, more than five out of every ten represented asylum seekers were successful as compared with only one out of every ten who were unrepresented. This translates to a success rate that was five times higher when you had an attorney.” TRAC, Continued Rise in Asylum Denial Rates: Impact of Representation and Nationality.
Detained immigrants with counsel were nearly 11 times more likely to seek relief [from deportation] such as asylum than those without representation (32 percent with counsel versus 3 percent without). American Immigration Council, Special Report, Access to Counsel in Immigration Court (Sept. 28, 2016). Also, [r]epresented immigrants in detention who had a custody hearing were four times more likely to be released from detention (44 percent with counsel versus 11 percent without). American Immigration Council, Special Report, Access to Counsel in Immigration Court (Sept. 28, 2016). These statistics are jarring.
Although the government assists indigent criminal defendants and civil litigants through public defenders and legal aid attorneys, it does not provide attorneys for people in immigration removal proceedings. As a result, an estimated 86 percent of the detained people go unrepresented due to poverty.
As many asylum seekers do not have the economic means to hire an attorney at the rates charge by most private practitioners there is a pressing need for pro bono (free) and low cost legal support and representation . For example, the Immigration Court at the South Texas Detention Complex estimates that about 12 asylum seekers present their claims for protection to an immigration judge without an attorney each week.
The Migrant Center for Human Rights strives to address this inequality both locally and nationally through providing direct legal services, partnerships with the community, education, and advocacy.
The Migrant Center for Human Rights is a Texas incorporated nonprofit legal service organization providing free and low cost legal services to men and women who are detained in immigration custody. Specifically, we provide legal support and representation to asylum seekers from around the world who are being held in immigration detention in the San Antonio area. We also submit requests for release from detention (parole, bond, and habeas corpus) and advocate on access to counsel issues, such as finding ways for non-English speakers to consult with and work with an attorney (language access) and reunifying split families. We work to:
- Protect immigrants’ human rights, including the right to due process
- Cultivate and expand attorney, volunteer, and community engagement
- Educate the public about pressing immigration issues
- Hold the government accountable for upholding immigrants’ human rights