Legal Assistance Team Update
One of the primary challenges facing ISCU’s Legal Assistance Team is connecting asylum seekers with legal representation. These individuals are awaiting their date with an Immigration Court judge in Chicago to determine whether they will be allowed to remain in the U.S. or sent back to their home country. Unfortunately, many of these people have fled life-threatening circumstances, making the prospect of being deported terrifying.
In addition to working with asylum seekers here in Illinois, our legal team is also reaching out to our network of legal advisors in other states to help family members of local immigrants who are caught up in the system in Arizona, Texas and Louisiana.
The cases of those who have been or are still being detained are particularly difficult. The young niece of a local woman was detained for over four months at a Department of Homeland Security correctional center in Maricopa County, Arizona. ISCU was able to secure the services of New Frontier Immigration Law through a referral from Jack Wilkie, an attorney and member of the ISCU Board of Directors. Unfortunately, this young woman was deported to Guatemala. However, even though it didn’t turn out as hoped, she was at least able to have her hearing, thanks to her legal representation.
ISCU was also recently contacted by another individual in Champaign regarding his nephew who has been held in detention centers in Texas and Louisiana – most recently at the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, La. – for over 11 months in deplorable conditions. ISCU was able to secure pro-bono services to represent this young man who walked through the deserts of Mexico for almost two weeks, many of those without water, to reach the U.S. Al Page, an attorney with Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA) in New Orleans, has conducted an intake for this individual.
In the process of contacting attorneys, ISCU learned that Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocates, including ISLA, have been escalating complaints regarding conditions at Richwood for many months now. When ISCU Executive Director Ben Mueller spoke with this young man about the meal he received at Christmas, the man replied that he was served a plate of beans with dead worms. All he wants is an opportunity to plead his case as to why he should be granted asylum in the US and be reunited with his uncle in Champaign.
Our strategy to provide legal assistance to these individuals – often with children also seeking asylum – has been to identify and partner with attorneys who provide pro-bono or “low-bono” legal assistance in asylum and immigration cases. The ISCU Legal Assistance Team has encountered significant challenges in these efforts. Many attorneys and organizations providing pro-bono or “low-bono” services are at or above capacity and are unable to take on additional cases. Detention cases are particularly formidable; many facilities are not allowing easy access to attorneys, either in-person or virtually. Securing funding to assist families and individuals with asylum and immigration cases has also been exacting; while some organizations provide services free of charge or for a low intake fee, other firms charge fees that, while below-market, are still very expensive or unattainable for those of limited means. Obtaining additional sources of funding, as well as developing our network of reliable attorneys with capacity, will prove crucial as we continue to receive urgent requests for legal assistance.
Attorney Ritika Narayanan of the Chicago firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP is representing a mother and daughter from Guatemala in a “low-bono” capacity, and the Legal Assistance Team has arranged for an intake meeting with Professor Victoria Carmona of the Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Immigration Clinic for the father and son of the same family. ISCU is also working with Ximena Rivera Rengifo, an attorney for The Immigration Project, who is representing several of our Guatemalan families seeking asylum. We are fortunate to have support from the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Law as well as the New American Welcome Center at the University Y on campus.
Not all legal representation cases are for asylum seekers. ISCU is appreciative for the accommodations made by Mr. Wilkie and other immigrant-friendly attorneys in C-U who have advised immigrants and represented them at well below market for non-immigration related cases. ISCU is also grateful for the support of the faith and community partners of the Immigrant Emergency Assistance Fund for its legal assistance for a number of cases that have been presented.