Ninth Circuit blocks and then reinstates inhumane Migrant Protection Protocol program but unrepresented asylum seekers are still without help

On Friday February 28th the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling blocking the Trump administration’s Migrant Protections Protocols, more accurately named Migrant Punishment Protocols. While this rule has been in effect, more than 60,000 people seeking asylum have been forced to wait in dangerous conditions along the border in Mexico. Since the program started only 263 people have been granted asylum while at the same time at least 816 cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping and other violent crimes have been reported against people placed in the program. Unfortunately later the same day a three judge panel stayed the block, allowing the government to appeal.

Of those waiting for an asylum hearing only 5% have found legal representation according to Beth Werlin, executive director of the American immigration Council.

How will this affect KIAC and its clients?

Although we are not clear about how this ruling will be implemented, we expect that some of the people who have been inhumanely blocked from pursuing their asylum cases in the US will come to our communities. We need to find a way to aid them in their pursuit of justice.

Even if this ruling is unsuccessful there are still thousands of asylum applicants who don’t have representation. The following information from the TRAC Immigration Project at Syracuse University demonstrates the difficulty migrants seeking asylum or other relief face if they don’t have legal representation.

Overall, federal immigration judges decided 67,406 asylum cases between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019, TRAC reported. Of those, 19,831 won their cases and 46,735 lost them. Migrants with lawyers won their cases or got other forms of relief at a rate of 33%, compared to only 16% who self-represented. The overall national denial rate for asylum seekers was 69% in FY 2019. Not surprisingly, applicants who were not represented by an attorney (or accredited representative) and thus less able to present an effective case received a faster decision than those applicants who did have an attorney. Figure 2 compares represented and non-represented asylum cases.

Figure 2

Although all of the cases included in the graph were concluded in FY 2019, the graph shows the year each case began, which provides insight into the impact attorney representation plays on the speed of asylum cases. For instance, nearly half (45.3%) of the unrepresented asylum cases that began in 2019 have already been decided. In contrast, less than one in ten (9.7%) of the represented asylum cases that began in 2019 have been decided.

KIAC’s experience with people who are unrepresented agrees with these data. Without representation people go to court and don’t understand what the judge is telling them, they don’t get enough time to prepare their cases, they don’t or can’t read the forms that are given to them because they are in English, they don’t fill the forms out or fill them out incompletely and so don’t put forward facts that would benefit them, they miss court dates because they didn’t understand when they were or don’t have a way to get to them, they try to represent themselves in hearings that are complicated and confusing and where an experienced government attorney is opposing them. If you read the transcripts of one of these hearings you would be appalled that we call this justice. That is why the red line in the figure above is going vertical. People seeking asylum need representation. Help us to help them.