The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) condemns the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “Migration Protection Protocols,” which were announced on December 20, 2018 by DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen.  Under the Protocols, individuals who arrive from Mexico and request asylum may be returned to Mexico while their immigration proceedings take place in the United States.

DHS’s new policy is based on a number of faulty premises.  In her statement, Secretary Nielsen cites a statistic that nine out of ten asylum claims are not granted by an immigration judge.  This is simply erroneous.  According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), based at Syracuse University, in FY 2018 thirty-five percent of asylum cases heard by an immigration judge were approved.

Additionally, as HILSC member organizations know well, the vast majority of denied asylum claims are denied either because the client does not have a good immigration attorney or because the applicant does not qualify under immigration law. Pathways for legal immigration, and particularly asylum, have been systematically narrowed by the Trump Administration, despite the fact that applicants are in very real fear for their lives and the lives and safety of their family members. Simply put, the vast majority of asylum claims, even those that are eventually denied, are not fraudulent.  This policy will force asylum-seekers to remain in a vulnerable situation in Mexico.

Furthermore, this policy will make it virtually impossible for asylum-seekers to access legal assistance.  In her statement, Secretary Nielson says that applicants will have access to immigration attorneys, but provides no information on how this will be accomplished.  Asylum-seekers do not have the right to appointed counsel.  However, whether or not an asylum-seeker is represented by counsel is one of the biggest factors in whether an applicant’s claim will be approved.  Most US immigration attorneys will not be able to travel to Mexico to meet with clients.  It will be extremely difficult for asylum-seekers to gather the evidence they need to support their cases from Mexico and with a limited ability to communicate with their attorneys.  Asylum-seekers have due process rights in immigration proceedings, including the right to an attorney and the right to present evidence, and DHS’s new policy will prevent asylum-seekers from exercising those rights.

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative stands with asylum-seekers and refugees in opposition to this action by the Trump Administration. We urge Houstonians to speak out against these policies by calling their members of Congress. Individuals, including attorneys, can volunteer with our partner organizations. We also welcome donations supporting legal representation for asylum seekers in the greater Houston region.

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative was formed in 2013 to address the lack of legal services capacity in the Houston region. Collaborative members include Houston non-profit legal services providers, outreach and advocacy organizations, the business community, law school legal clinics, public agencies, and private foundations. The mission of the Collaborative is to create a coordinated network of effective and efficient services to assist low-income immigrants access the information and legal representation that allows them to make choices in their own best interest.