U.S. lawyers reach out to asylum seekers in Mexico

Border Report

Law firms send reps to Juarez and ponder opening offices there

No asylum seekers have been called to El Paso, Texas since Aug. 1.

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez officials are once again having to calm tempers down as U.S. authorities haven’t called any would-be asylum seekers since Aug. 1.

“We have been told that CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) is trying to catch up on processing. We have people coming here every day to find out what is going on and we are dealing with that anxiety in various ways,” said Dirvin Garcia Gutierrez, coordinator of the Migrant Assistance Center in Juarez. The first stoppage lasted three days in June, the second one lasted 11 days in July.

The center, which manages the waiting list of asylum seekers on behalf of U.S. authorities, is allowing representatives of law firms specializing in immigration law to give free talks to asylum seekers, which in Juarez are mostly from Cuba.

A Cuban asylum seeker comes out of the Migrant Assistance Center in Juarez after listening to a presentation from a Houston immigration attorney. Cameras were not allowed inside the center. (Photos by Julian Resendiz)

On Friday, Mairim Alonso fielded questions and dispensed basic information to more than 50 Cubans who wanted to gauge their chances of being granted asylum in the United States.

“I try to make sure they understand the (asylum) law. If they understand what they are up against, what is it that they have to prove, then you have a better chance of success,” said Alonso, from the Houston law firm of Alonso & de Leef, PLLC. “The more specific your case is, the more credibility you have, and in the end, that is what counts.”

During her presentation, Alonso emphasized to the asylum seekers the importance of having witnesses or sworn statements from witnesses, newspaper clippings or emails and any other documentation of political persecution. Dates, names, a full description of the acts and consequences are crucial, she said.

“Sometimes your testimony alone isn’t sufficient or may not be found credible. But if you have evidence that backs up your testimony, you have a better chance that they believe you,” she said.

Cuban asylum seekers talk amongst each other regarding the delays they’re enduring in Mexico for a first appointment in the United States.

Alonso said American law firms are having to reach across the border because the Migrant Protection Protocol program — which forces asylum seekers to wait for their court dates in Mexico — has cut off most contact with clients and prospective clients.

“They are not permitted to cross until the day of their hearing and their lawyers are not given access to talk to them prior to the hearing,” Alonso said.

She said her law firm may be opening an office in Juarez soon with Mexican lawyers who can give asylum seekers advice not only on pursuing asylum in the United States, but also help them deal with their legal status in Mexico.

“We are being clear with them that having a lawyer is no guarantee of asylum, but it gives you a better chance. The example I give them is, if you’re sick you an try a home remedy and hope you get well or go to a doctor to evaluate your symptoms,” Alonso said.

The asylum list at the Migrant Assistance Center was up to 17,918 persons on Friday. Of those, 12,133 had gone to their initial interviews with CBP as of Aug. 1, the last day asylum seekers in Juarez were seen. The average wait time as of the end of July was three months. Also, 13,501 migrants had been returned to Juarez under the MPP program as of Thursday.

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