Update on ILAP's Response to Recent Arrivals Seeking Asylum
Earlier this summer, many of you made a generous donation to ILAP so that we could scale up our asylum legal services and implement a rapid response for hundreds of individuals within days of their arrival in Maine. We're proud to share this update on the work you've made possible. Thank you.
From June to August, more than 400 asylum seekers arrived in Maine and were temporarily housed at the Portland Expo Center and other local shelters. They had fled violence and persecution in Central Africa and endured a treacherous trip by land from South America to the southern border. Now in the U.S., they face a complicated, years long asylum process at a time when new policies are making asylum more difficult to get and immigration courts more harrowing to navigate without an attorney.
As Maine’s only immigration legal services organization, ILAP was the place the new arrivals turned to for legal help shortly after getting to Portland. But because this group is part of a longer trend that ILAP has been experiencing for the last two years (after a steady increase in demand for asylum legal services over the past ten years), our resources were already stretched thin with ongoing cases.
An outpouring of community support made it possible for ILAP to implement a rapid response to meet this urgent need, and we first focused on triage of initial procedural challenges. In June, we organized a legal orientation, intake and consultation day on-site at the Expo Center. Our legal staff was joined by 11 volunteer attorneys and several interpreters for a 13-hour day helping more than 200 individuals check the status of their case and update their address with immigration. Since then, we have provided:
Ongoing legal orientations and outreach in the community
In-depth consultations for 94 families
Assistance with 335 immigration forms (including changes of address, motions to change venue, applications for work authorization and requests for fee waiver)
In July, we hired Felix Hagenimana, Esq. in the new part-time role of Asylum Outreach Attorney. Felix is now coordinating legal orientations and procedural assistance for individuals who have asylum cases in immigration court, including the families who were staying at the Expo Center and other local shelters. These cases are procedurally complex because they are sent directly to immigration court, versus “affirmative” cases that begin with a non-adversarial interview process.
The administrative chaos and due process violations at the southern border also mean that an individual may be in one of several different legal scenarios, their case may be filed with one of many immigration courts across the country requiring a change of venue, and there may be a significant delay before their case is even in the immigration system. Felix is helping people navigate these initial procedures and filing requirements to ensure they understand their rights and avoid making mistakes that can lead to deportation.
Because of the generosity of community members, businesses, faith organizations, local leaders and foundations in all corners of the state and beyond, this summer our newest neighbors had access to the critical immigration legal services they needed. With your support, ILAP was able to respond quickly, continue work on ongoing cases, and scale up to have more robust asylum services moving forward.
Today, we are looking ahead to the long and complicated legal journey that many will have to navigate over the next several years to find safety from persecution in Maine. Our Pro Bono Panel of 180 volunteer attorneys already represents close to 200 asylum seekers each year, but we are unable to find an attorney for everyone who needs one. As a result, we have prioritized strengthening our asylum services to provide attorney representation and assistance for more of the recent arrivals and others seeking asylum.
Thank you again for your ongoing commitment to ILAP and Maine's immigrant communities. Please continue to check our website, Facebook and Twitter pages for updates and action alerts related to asylum and other pressing immigration issues.