Immigration policy and law is absolutely inescapable these days. It is a cornerstone issue in the Presidential election and a key issue in lower elections. As you read and hear about fights over day-labor centers, an increase in immigration raids throughout the state focused heavily on the industries which drive our economy, you might wonder what the attorney’s role as advocate should be. There are many opportunities for all lawyers in Maryland to get involved in this field, be it for a brief stint or as an introduction to more extensive practice in this area.
Immigration law is seen as the bastion of a few who concentrate in it, but there are many who don’t whose clients have immigration issues. While immigration law is ever-changing and extremely complex, one of the best ways to begin is to take a pro bono case from an organization which will provide mentoring and training. You will find that this is readily available from many organizations in the area.
While the immigration law and case precedent is critical for immigration cases, these cases also have many aspects which go beyond just the law. For example, asylum cases allow the practitioner to study and learn the politics and/or culture of different countries. While this can be challenging, it provides a welcome diversion to many attorneys from strictly reading statutes to focusing on people’s stories and the stories of their countries.
There are many cutting-edge areas of asylum in which the law is still developing, such as gender-based asylum cases, sexual-orientation cases and cases of individuals in fear of recruitment into gangs.
As we read and hear about the Department of Homeland Security increasing its raids into Maryland, a large increase in court cases for those picked up in the raids can be seen. While some of the people picked up in the raids are able to apply for relief from removal, others benefit most from motions of suppression. Criminal attorneys have the experience to try these cases and would be a welcome asset to the local immigration bar.
There are many individuals who are detained in Maryland who go unrepresented but may have claims for asylum or other relief which would allow them to stay in the United States. Immigrants are detained in various jails throughout the state, with the largest number on the eastern shore and some in Carroll County and Howard County. Many of the detainees are asylum-seekers whose only reason for being in jail is that they came to the United States without a visa, often with the clothes on their back and their lives almost lost. That people fleeing persecution (many of which had been jailed and tortured in their own countries) are then often forced by the law to wait in jail during the pendency of their asylum claim is terribly sad, and the faster attorneys can get involved in the case the better the chance for asylum and also for avoiding deportation.
As the pro bono coordinator for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, I have placed many cases over the past four years, some with surprising results. In one case, an attorney took a case which seemed hopeless and got the state to take custody of a child and place that child into foster care, thus making the child eligible for permanent residency as a special immigrant juvenile. That type of case would be a fantastic fit for a family attorney looking to take a pro bono case in a different area.
The Maryland Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC), along with the Maryland Bar and the Baltimore Immigration Court, is sponsoring a training on March 7, 2008, at the University of Maryland School of Law and the Baltimore Immigration Court. This training is free of charge and will provide any attorney who pledges to take one pro bono case over the next year a very solid introduction into court procedures and asylum law. These cases will come directly from immigration judges, mentoring will be provided to anyone that takes a case.
Attorneys new to immigration law or those without much experience in immigration court are invited to attend this training. If you are interested in attending, please contact the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 837-9379 to get a schedule and to register.
Mark Shmueli practices exclusively in the area of immigration law and is currently the Pro Bono Coordinator for the DC/MD/VA chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. His practice is in Takoma Park, Maryland.