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Legal challenges facing Central American asylum seekers
June 16, 2015

Legal challenges facing Central American asylum seekers
Professor Charlotte Whitmore, second from left, with some of her students at Boston College Law School. (photo courtesy of Boston College MTS Photography)
Download the full report here.
For Arturo, a 19-year-old from Honduras, escaping north was an escape from intense domestic violence. His father abandoned his family and left him with his uncles who would beat him and chain him to the inside of their truck during the day to prevent his escape — eventually he was able to flee to the U.S. to reunite with his mother and sister.

(Washington, D.C.) June 16, 2015 — In recognition of World Refugee Day, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and 13 U.S.-based Jesuit law schools announce the release of A Fair Chance for Due Process: Challenges in Legal Protection for Central American Asylum Seekers and Other Vulnerable Migrants. This report captures efforts by Jesuit law schools to assist asylum seekers and migrants from Central America and challenges they face in delivering these services.   

In the summer of 2014, the number of Central Americans migrating to the United States reached peak numbers. Of particular concern was the high number of unaccompanied and separated migrant children, originating primarily from the Northern Triangle of Central America – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

In April 2015, JRS/USA — a nongovernmental organization working to advance the rights of refugees and displaced persons around the world — and Jesuit law schools launched a partnership to raise awareness about the plight of children and families from Central America seeking protection in the U.S.  "This partnership is a ground-breaking effort among Jesuit institutions rooted in the Catholic tradition of welcoming the stranger, to identify and call for significant changes in U.S. policies and practices toward migrants," said Armando Borja, JRS/USA National Director. 

Individuals served by Jesuit law schools cited a variety of reasons for fleeing their home countries, including violence suffered at the hands of gangs and criminal actors, and violence suffered in the home. For Arturo, a 19-year-old from Honduras, escaping north was an escape from intense domestic violence. His father abandoned his family and left him with his uncles who would beat him and chain him to the inside of their truck during the day to prevent his escape — eventually he was able to flee to the U.S. to reunite with his mother and sister.

Finding legal representation is one of the first hurdles that migrants arriving in the U.S. face. According to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, only 46% of the unaccompanied children going before Immigration Court are currently represented by an attorney — and more than 81,000 juveniles are still without legal representation. 

Jesuit law schools are working to fill this void, serving asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants from Central America in a variety of ways, including through research, training and direct representation. In 2014, Jesuit law schools represented 291 asylum seekers and migrants from Central America and anticipate serving more than 300 in 2015.  

Through this work, Jesuit law schools identified a series of challenges in representing their clients, including:

• Procedural challenges in managing the mandated expedited docket for these migrants.
• Legal challenges posed by limitations in the acceptance of gang-related violence claims.
• Logistical challenges related to consistent and reliable access to clients and courts.
• Challenges accessing counseling and support services.

Acknowledging these challenges, JRS/USA and Jesuit Law Schools recommend the following policy changes:

• Ensure legal representation for minors
• Increase resources for legal representation
• Stop expedited processing for children and families
• Recognize gang-based asylum claims
• Track jurisprudence on gang-based asylum cases
• Minimize movement of clients and increase access to transportation services
• Provide access to counseling services
• Reform the U.S. detention system
• Provide for additional avenues of relief

Participating law schools are: Boston College, Creighton University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, Loyola University Chicago (in close collaboration with the Center for the Human Rights of Children housed at Loyola University Chicago), Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Loyola University New Orleans, Saint Louis University (in close collaboration with the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry housed at Saint Louis University), Santa Clara University, Seattle University, University of Detroit Mercy, and University of San Francisco.


Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. 

To accompany means to be a companion. We are companions of Jesus, so we wish to be companions of those with whom he preferred to be associated, the poor and the outcast. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so that those made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection and durable solution to their plight can be achieved. 

JRS/USA witnesses to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.  

As one of the ten geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.  

JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations. 

In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.

JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of nearly 760,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.

In 2014, approximately 142,000 children, young people and adults received primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. 



Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
christian.fuchs@jrs.net
202-629-5946