SAN ANTONIO – After reviewing the findings of a national study, a local immigration attorney said he agrees that not having legal representation vastly increases the chances of deportation.
“I think an attorney can play a crucial role in these types of cases. Without an attorney, I think their chances of prevailing are small,” Lance Curtright said.
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, based at Syracuse University in New York, found that 90 percent of those who didn’t have an attorney were denied asylum, while the denial rate for those with attorneys was 48 percent.
The study also reports that compared to last year, overall asylum denials by immigration judges are up by 57 percent.
“Asylum is one of the most difficult things in any area of law and certainly the most difficult thing in immigration law,” Curtright said.
Curtright said in order to win, immigrants must prove a reasonable fear of persecution based on their race, political opinions, religion, nationality or social group. However, asylum laws are more concerned about government persecution, not what is driving thousands of Central Americans to flee their homelands.
“They didn’t foresee MS-13 recruiting kids to join gangs,” Curtright said.
He said that’s likely why the study showed the highest denial rates are for people from Mexico, up by 408 percent, followed by those from Honduras, with an increase of 166 percent.
Both countries have violent criminal gangs, Curtright said, but especially Central America where the gangs have infiltrated governments.
“It’s like trying to separate the ocean from the sea. They’re the same,” Curtright said.
One of Curtright’s clients is a mother who fled Honduras with her 16-year-old son in 2014. She said the gangs were waiting outside schools, threatening and even kidnapping students.
“They beat up my son,” she said. Gang members tried to force him into a gang, and he was able to run back into the school.
The mother said it frightened her, but only gave the courage to speak out.
The mother said she organized other parents and marched in protest. But after another parent was attacked, she decided it was time to leave Honduras.
Had she not taken a relative’s advice to get an attorney, she said, “My idea was to hide.” But now her son is a legal resident thanks to Curtright’s partner, Joseph De Mott.
The mother said her son is graduating from high school in June and working at a local restaurant, but her case is on appeal, after being denied asylum.
But Curtright said that the mother has a powerful case and that she had “a clear political motivation” to leave Honduras.
“I think her chances are good because justice is on her side,” Curtright said.
“We’re fighting and waiting,” the mother said.
She said she’s hopeful because an attorney is fighting for her.