Daily Journal Spotlights Akin Gump Associates’ Pro Bono Asylum Work in Texas
In its article “Akin Gump lawyers counsel refugees in Texas,” Daily Journal featured Akin Gump cross-border transactions associate Rachel Ramos and corporate associate Nicholas Scott’s pro bono work with women and children asylum seekers at the Karnes County federal detention facility.
Ramos and Scott are working with RAICES (Refugee And Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to prepare the detained women for their “credible fear” interviews with federal asylum officers. The lawyers explain to women what these officers look for and help the women to structure their narratives. A successful interview can mean that the asylum applicant exits detainment to live with a U.S.-based sponsor while continuing the asylum process.
Scott described the women’s stories of life in their home countries as often “traumatic and horrifying,” with physical and sexual assault a common thread, according to the Akin Gump and RAICES lawyers.
He also noted that asylum applicants also come from non-Spanish-speaking countries, as he’s worked with arrivals from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Mongolia, adding, “If you don’t speak Spanish or English and don’t have the support of women around you, it’s not only a horrifying experience because of the conditions, but I think it’s especially confusing and disorienting.”
Ramos discussed the challenges in preparing women to present a claim of credible fear, “It’s in this mindset and these conditions that they’re trying to think clearly and tell their stories effectively to someone who might not speak the same language. And meanwhile, they’re often worrying about where the rest of their family is.”
Akin Gump pro bono counsel Lauren Connell, who helped the firm launch its Karnes City Immigrant Family Pro Bono Project in 2014 with a group of legal and nongovernmental organizations (learn more here), says of the Karnes detainees’ chances at winning a favorable decision, “There aren’t a lot of bites of the apple for these women. And that’s why it’s just so important that they’re able to talk with attorneys before they get in for this crucial interview.”
On the relevance—and prevalence—of domestic violence in these women’s stories, Connell identified it as key in making the case for asylum: “If domestic violence is something that’s long been accepted in her society, a woman might think, ‘No one’s going to care about this. Why would I mention it?’ If a woman asserts during a prep session that she’s been the victim of domestic violence, that’s something we want her to highlight during her interview.”