On December 16, 2016, the Feerick Center held a conference to underscore the urgent need for lawyers to undertake the representation of asylum-seeking families in the New York metropolitan area as well as the continued need for legal volunteers at the family detention center in Dilley, Texas.
Opening the conference, Robert Katzmann, chief judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, called the current situation “a crisis of conscience.” Without legal representation, refugees have little likelihood of success on their asylum claims. The need for effective representation is greater than ever, he said. In its absence “untold numbers of people’s lives will be shattered.”
Speakers following Judge Katzmann seconded his concerns. While the majority of families from family detention are released to pursue asylum claims, the vast majority of these claims will be denied due to inadequate legal counsel. Currently, in New York, more than 3,600 immigrants do not have a lawyer. Although the women have created self-help tools such as a Facebook page to help them proceed with their claims, these are not replacements for an attorney. They need informed guidance throughout the process if they are not to be forced to return home.
Speakers described the horrifying conditions from which these families fled: gang violence, extortion, and neighborhoods where residents are treated as gang property. Having suffered violence on their journey to the United States, families arrive traumatized and are put into detention centers with degrading conditions and the threat of deportation hanging over them.
Co-organizers of the event included the American Psychological Association, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center, Human Rights First, Immigrant Justice Corps, and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Co-sponsors included Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York, Fordham Law School’s Immigration Advocacy Project, Fordham Law School’s Latin American Law Student Association, Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service, and Volunteers of Legal Service.
Those who have represented these families said that the work was transformative. With the future of asylum-seekers in the United States more uncertain, the center will be redoubling its efforts to expand the pool of lawyers willing to represent them. To learn more contact either Dora Galacatos, Feerick Center executive director, or Bree Bernwanger, director of the center’s New York Unaccompanied Immigrant Children and Immigrant Families Project.