DIFFICULTIES FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS SUBJECT TO TRUMP’S “REMAIN IN MEXICO” PROGRAM FINDING EFFECTIVE LEGAL REPRESENTATION

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

There are many difficulties that asylum seekers to the United States face in trying to achieve effective legal representation.  Language barriers and the financial burden of paying legal fees to a knowledgeable, experienced immigration attorney are just 2 of the problems that asylum seekers must confront.  However, those asylum seekers to the United States subject to President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program (known as the “Remain in Mexico” program) must address additional special difficulties in obtaining effective legal representation.

Since late January, pursuant to the “Remain in Mexico” program, the Trump administration has turned back some asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and required them to wait in Mexico while their cases are being processed.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of March 12, 240 asylum seekers were being held in Mexico (and this number is expected to significantly grow). The “Remain in Mexico” program represents a fundamental change in the US policy on asylum; previously, asylum seekers were admitted to the United States and allowed to remain in the United States until their cases were resolved.

There are several special issues with lawyers trying to represent the Central American asylum seekers being held in Mexico under the “Remain in Mexico” program.  First, it is not easy for a US attorney to communicate with a client being held in a shelter in Mexico (including that many asylum seekers in Mexico either do not have cellphones or cannot afford to make international calls).  Second, some US attorneys are questioning whether they can practice law in another country for profit based on their professional responsibility and ethics rules. Third, some US attorneys are nervous about travelling to and from Mexico because they fear that their passport will be challenged for doing work in Mexico without a proper work visa.  Fourth, some US attorneys are worried about the time it would take to travel to Mexico (and identify possible places to meet to have private conversations) to provide adequate representation for these clients, as it will adversely affect their abilities to represent their other clients in the US. Fifth, some US attorneys are concerned about properly handling cases under the “Remain in Mexico” program, given its new and uncertain rules.

“It’s not sustainable. . . . It’s at the sacrifice of other work as well. . . . There are so many unknowns with the MPP program. . . . One thing that could be likened to those that are in immigration detention or immigration incarceration is that the communication is very difficult. . . . We can’t pick up the phone and call our clients who are in immigration incarceration.  And that’s proving to be similar to those in the MPP program”, said Leah Chavarria, senior immigration attorney at Jewish Family Service of San Diego, a nonprofit organization that provides some legal assistance to immigrants.

While the “Remain in Mexico” program is being challenged in litigation, it currently constitutes a significant obstacle for Central American asylum seekers to receive effective legal representation from US attorneys.  With its years of experience in protecting immigrant rights, the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates has frequently overcome obstacles to provide effective representation for its clients. If you are an immigrant, and for whatever reason otherwise cannot engage competent counsel, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for representation.