Thus far in 2016, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported that federal immigration authorities have taken 336 young people and 121 family units into custody in the United States. This high number of detainments is partly in response to the influx of immigrants from Central America that come to the United States seeking asylum. ICE’s field office in Atlanta is responsible for two-thirds of the family units and one-third of the young people being detained.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) reports that in 2015, Atlanta’s immigration judges denied 98 percent of petitions for asylum. Only 16 percent of asylum petitions were denied in New York City and roughly 52 percent were denied nationally according to the EOIR’s statistics.
A staff attorney with Catholic Charities of Atlanta, Will Miller, stated that the extremely high rate of denials has scared many attorneys away from dealing with asylum cases. Mr. Miller is quoted as saying, “I know that when I first started, the general consensus was, ‘Don’t take asylum cases, because they’re just going to be denied, and you’re just going to be wasting your client’s money.'”
Mr. Miller stated that attorneys pursuing asylum should prepare to take their case to the Board of Immigration Appeals and, if that is unsuccessful, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He further commented, “You’re going to be in for the long haul. It’s not just going to be a matter of handling the case in downtown Atlanta immigration court. There’s going to be a denial, and you’re going to have to handle the appellate part as well. It’s just a long, arduous process.”
A spokesperson for the EOIR, Kathryn Mattingly, said that her office “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making.”
Recently, a number of immigration lawyers have teamed up to form the CARA project. The CARA project is a pro-bono legal network that collects resources from many large nonprofit organizations and a national association of attorneys to take cases in family detention centers in Texas. While this model is not readily available everywhere, immigration law clinics at law schools are good alternatives to tackle these complex asylum cases.