Border Report

Few asylum-seekers sent to wait in Mexico get legal aid

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Advocates cite logistical challenges to connect with clients on MPP program

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) ⁠— As the number of migrants placed in the “Remain in Mexico” program increases, the percentage of those with legal representation drops, which could hinder their chances of a successful asylum petition, new data and interviews with advocates show.

According to reports from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at the University of Syracuse dated Aug. 26 and July 29, almost twice as many migrants were placed in the program, also known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) in July compared to June. Of those MPP participants whose cases reached immigration courts in June, only 1.3 percent had representation, according to TRAC.

“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,” stated the TRAC report that compared rates of legal representation among MPP participants and other people who have ongoing immigration procedures. For instance, 35.4 percent of immigrants not on the MPP program whose case had been in the courts for more than five months had legal representation, compared to 12 percent of MPP participants whose court cases had dragged on that long.

Attorneys and immigration advocates previously interviewed by KTSM said having a lawyer is no guarantee that a migrant will get asylum, but it gives a better chance to state their case.

In the El Paso area, which has more than 13,000 MPP program participants, the overall legal representation rate among those is around 5 percent, said Marisa Limon, deputy director of the Hope Border Institute. The low rate has to do with the availability of immigration lawyers and qualified legal assistance agencies, as well as the logistical challenges of working with clients in neighboring Juarez, Mexico, she said.

“We don’t have that many legal service providers in El Paso and those we have are at capacity,” Limon said. “Immigration law is complex. Unfortunately, with the way the policies have been rolled out, it’s very difficult for U.S. attorneys to connect with people in Juarez. Things like lack of meeting space, not being able to access clients, the long waits at the (international) bridge, and also the preferences of some organizations as far as security make it more difficult.”

Limon said she hopes some of those problems will be made less severe when national legal advocacy agencies get involved.

A Maryland-based group called Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) earlier this summer announced plans to set up a legal partnership in Juarez, and some of its representatives recently were in El Paso talking to advocates.

“People are distanced from legal assistance. … My hope is that will shift with some groups coming in and offering support,” Limon said.

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