Legal Obstacles for Asylum-Seekers Too Often Overlooked

Immigration and Migration @DePaul
4 min readApr 21, 2022


By Laura Pachon and Emerson Sherbourne

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced a new deal with the state of Rwanda in an attempt to reform the United Kingdom’s asylum system. This deal in effect sends asylum-seekers who show up at the UK’s border to a residency in Rwanda while their cases are being processed. As reported last week in The New York Times, this new law “could criminalize the act of entering a country without a valid visa or through what the government calls ‘irregular routes.’”

Demonstrators in Hamburg gather to protest treatment of immigrants and refugees in Germany (Rasande Tyskar)

This deal is yet another example of the way Global North states are attempting to deter forcibly displaced peoples from showing up at their borders seeking refugee status. An additional obstacle asylum-seekers face, one that is the frequent cause of a losing case, is that of legal counsel. Oftentimes, those representing asylum-seekers are doing so on a pro bono basis–that is, for free.

One educator is making sure that students know the intricacies involved in this particular barrier to entry and the difficulties asylum-seekers face.

On Wednesday April 6, students taking Children Seeking Asylum: Creating Digital Media to Support Human Rights, a Humanities X course at DePaul University actively engaged with guest speaker Reverend Craig Mousin, who has deep experience working in asylum law. Rev. Mousin founded the Midwest Immigrants Rights Center, now known as the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). He also started the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul’s College of Law, in which aspiring law students “advocate on behalf of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers and to collaborate with immigrant-serving nonprofits” through legal representation. Rev. Mousin has been a part of DePaul’s law faculty since 1990 and has served as the university Ombudsperson since 2001.

The class in which he spoke (ART 395) is focused on educating students about the asylum-seeking process, with an emphasis on forensic health evaluations. Here, students collaborate in the creation of short, informational videos about the course’s community partner, the Midwest Human Rights Consortium (MHRC). This course is taught through an interdisciplinary lens by a team of three: Dr. Maria Ferrera from the Department of Social Work, Dr. Chi Jang Yin from the Art School, and pediatrician Dr. Minal Giri — the community partner representative — from the MHRC.

Addressing the class, Rev. Mousin offered a quick historical rundown of the international bodies and conventions that cover what exactly constitutes a refugee — including the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. He walked students through the changes of the 2016 Trump Administration on refugee and asylum law and policy. The 2020 Biden Administration, he noted, has yet to reverse many of these policies.

Rev. Mousin answered the students’ many questions and explained the technicalities behind the law of it all. Speaking to the students about the language, precision, and credibility that must be used when talking about refugees and asylum seekers, Rev. Mousin provided insight into the effects that having a forensic evaluation can have on an asylum case, and how having a record of injuries and mental and physical trauma can be vital in an asylum case being granted. The students were captivated, asking questions about the ways that taking the stand in an asylum hearing can be both beneficial to the case, but also potentially harmful for the asylum seeker’s well-being.

When the students returned to class the following Monday, they had still more questions for their instructors, as well as gratitude for the Reverend’s visit. One student, senior Devin Thompson, was thankful to learn the legalities of asylum-seeking and refugee statuses:

“The way Rev. Mousin explained it made it easier to process and understand how everything functions. I realized that this isn’t normally what you see in the news, which is key to actually having knowledge on the subject-matter.”

As two graduate students pursuing our master’s degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, we found this talk exceptionally important. In the United States, many seem to accept what is law and what isn’t but often ignore the overarching subject of international law. International law is what binds states together and gives rules, norms, and definition to concepts such as refugee status and asylum, war crimes, and trade agreements. Different countries find ways to interpret international law, as seen with the UK, in order to benefit their political agenda. Meanwhile, laypeople who have not studied international law don’t understand that plenty of states may be violating international laws on the day-to-day.

In addition to assisting with Children Seeking Asylum, we’re students in Rev. Mousin’s course Refugee and Asylum Law & Policy and have felt the benefits of learning the actual law behind these topics that inform the globalized society we live in. We appreciate how Rev. Mousin is working to make sure students who may not have a chance to take a law course can still learn about the legal documents and tools available for refugee and human rights activists to protect and uphold international law.

Forced migration and displacement affects the whole world and will only get worse with climate change. As Global South countries feel the worst effects of climate change, it is only a matter of time until the number of displaced peoples jumps to 1 billion, as is predicted to happen by 2050. We believe that topics referencing international relations and politics should be covered more broadly across higher education, for it is unconscionable to deny that the actions of our own countries have reactions in twenty others.