To help asylum seekers navigate some of the complex legal challenges in the U.S. immigration system—and to stay in the country long enough to see their cases through—this year the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic took on an important project: writing a pro se guide for individuals to represent themselves in asylum proceedings.
“President Trump’s policies target not only people who are undocumented, and that’s about 11 million including children brought here when they were young—the dreamers— but also people who are seeking permission to enter the United states,” says Lisa Weissman-Ward, clinical supervising attorney with the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, adding that many of them are asylum seekers escaping violence in their home countries.
Many of these individuals do not have attorneys and have to represent themselves pro se.
“Right now there are so many people who are seeking asylum and there are so many people in the immigration courts in general that there are not enough lawyers to represent them,” says Arturo Schultz, JD ’17. “There’s also a concern among the immigration bar that the number of cases will only increase in the coming years. so this project is an attempt to handle that mis-match between the number of people who need representation and the number of lawyers, by enabling and empowering people to represent themselves.”
Schultz explains that writing the guide had many challenges, first in simplifying the law but also in visualizing it so that it’s useful to people who know little, if any, English.
“We observed an immigration judge, we field tested it with some of the asylum seekers that would be using it, and we peer-tested it and got feedback from other students in the clinic. So it’s been a pretty rigorous project,” he says. “Then we started working with a graphic designer, because an important aspect of this project for us is to make sure that the material is as accessible as possible for the people who will be using it.” The guide, the first of its kind in the country, was published in May 2017.