US Asylum Law
After a long legal career in the corporate arena, Downtowner Nejjie Morales had the opportunity to delve into the complex labyrinth of asylum.
When we speak of corporate law, the assumption is transactions, contracts, paper, lots of paper, but the immigration angle has different connotations. I sat for a coffee with this no-nonsense local lawyer.
Downtown News: What was most impacting going from one world to the next?
Nejjie Morales: The world of asylum has a very deep human side. You get immersed in the lives of your clients, in their increasingly harsh reality. Here in Miami, we deal with a very diverse clientele, ranging from a Guatemalan farmer who only speaks a Mayan language, and has been subjected to racial persecution and gender violence, to the tragedies of Venezuelans fleeing the destruction of their country and their democracy. And then there are Central Americans fleeing powerful criminal groups, or Cuban families making unimaginable journeys to the United States, having exposed themselves to the dangers encountered in each country they had to go through. These are just some of the examples. Listening to each story fills you with humility and gratitude at the same time.
DN: There have been new regulations, who qualifies for asylum?
NM: Almost all immigrants have a legitimate reason to flee their countries, but only a very small percentage meet the strict requirements to qualify for asylum here in the United States. US asylum law applies to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Establishing these grounds is not always easy.
DN: Can you talk about the increase in arrests of those who request asylum when entering the US-Mexico border?
NM: The arrests of these people, despite seeking asylum and having entered through one of the ports of entry authorized by the United States government, did not increase in 2020, but in many cases, people remained imprisoned with common criminals for a year, even more… They are taken to various detention centers throughout the country. In many cases these detention centers are so remote and isolated that it is difficult to access lawyers.
DN: What does a detainee do in such cases?
NM: Those who have relatives in the US, and funds, may retain counsel to represent them, but the vast majority try to represent themselves at the court hearings, often losing a great opportunity to win their asylum case.
DN: For many the Immigration System is broken, and overly politicized. Do you agree?
NM: Asylum is an internationally protected right. Our regulations and our behavior towards asylum seekers must be consistent with international agreements. In my experience, the clients that I have represented in court are people whose main objective is to live in a country that respects human rights. We, immigration law practitioners, do reflect not only on how effective our immigration system is but also on the immense cost it represents for taxpayers. The solution to the problems in the immigration system is not rejecting immigrants and denying them a fair process, but rather working to achieve an efficient, compassionate, and non-politicized system. That would be a win-win situation for all.
DN: And to conclude…
NM: We, immigration attorneys, hope that 2021 brings a more organized and fair immigration system.