For immigrants facing the threat of deportation or pursuing lawful status and citizenship, quality counsel changes everything. IJC Fellows win over 90% of the immigration cases they take on, but the case resolution is only a small part of the relationship between Fellow and client. Fellows support clients for years, helping them navigate the immigration system, sickness, and other obstacles.
In this series – How Fellows make a difference — three Fellows share their experiences helping clients through challenging periods, remaining steadfast in their advocacy and support, and demonstrating the impact of quality representation.
Meet Alexandra Castro, a Second-Year Justice Fellow working with Al Otro Lado in Los Angeles to represent and advocate for immigrants in California. Alexandra shares her experience helping her client, Dana, navigate the complex, misleading, and deadline-filled immigration process.
One of the requirements for those seeking asylum is filing the correct paperwork within one year of arriving in the United States. But what happens when you miss the one-year deadline?
Dana’s case is an excellent example of the one-year deadline and its harsh application. A bright woman with an ambition to do everything perfectly, Dana had many questions for the ICE officer at her check ins. At her first check in, she asked the officer whether she needed to submit any paperwork or consult with an attorney. The officer told her no, all she needed to do was wait.
Following the officer’s advice, Dana waited. Nothing changed. Several months later at her next check in, Dana asked the same officer if he was certain she did not need to submit anything or speak with an attorney. Again, the officer recommended she just wait.
Dana missed her one-year filing deadline for asylum.
Dana was not aware of the requirement until, by chance, she met an attorney from Al Otro Lado. I now represent Dana in her immigration proceedings, and I’m looking into exceptions for the one-year filing deadline in preparation for her asylum interview. It is uncertain whether Dana will still be eligible for asylum.
Dana was lucky to find an attorney who can advocate for her. For thousands of asylum seekers, their luck is just not enough. Many who missed the one-year filing deadline will be forced to advocate for themselves without any representation. Having to navigate the immigration legal system is already an exceptionally difficult process without the addition of failing to comply with an arbitrary deadline – a deadline that even U.S. ICE Officers appear to be unaware of.
Serving as an IJC fellow at AOL gives me the tools, resources, and confidence to be able to fiercely represent Dana in her immigration proceedings regardless of the missing requirement. The fellowship also provides a sense of community among practitioners. It is in times of injustice and frustration, times like these, when I rely most on that sense of community.
Immigrant Justice Corps is the first and only fellowship of its kind – recruiting promising new lawyers and advocates, training them to provide high-quality legal services, and mobilizing them to host organizations around the country to directly help immigrants in need. Help us stand up for immigrants’ rights with a donation.