Pathways in Action: Assisting Asylum-Seekers in Laredo

Ana Ortega-Villegas

By Ana Ortega-Villegas

Title 42 Policy, Recent Measures, and the Urgency to Assist Asylum-Seekers

Title 42 (T42) is a public health policy used as a pretext to block asylum seekers from requesting protection for three years. While it officially ended on May 11th, its termination does not automatically grant the ability for individuals needing protection to request asylum at the southern border.

Additional measures have been implemented that simply put are replacing T42 to continue impeding people from seeking their right to asylum. An appointment via the CBP One™ mobile app is now a requirement for individuals who want to seek protection. Forcing vulnerable people to wait for their appointment through this app, which continues to have well-documented glitches, exposes them to grave danger in Mexican border towns and it is separating families. These newly introduced regulations resemble the asylum ban implemented during the previous administration. In fact, it is a ban on asylum. Among other things people are now required to seek asylum in a transited country before being able to seek protection in the U.S. The new rule is exacerbating the already arduous and unjust nature of our asylum process.

Hurdles and Hardships Faced by Asylum Seekers

I recently volunteered with Jones Day's Laredo Project in Laredo, Texas. For an entire week, I immersed myself in the front lines of the rapid legal services response efforts, taking action following the end of Title 42 and the beginning of the asylum ban. I worked alongside dedicated legal volunteers and interpreters in Laredo who provided legal counsel over the phone to asylum-seekers detained in border patrol facilities, anxiously awaiting their Credible Fear Interviews (CFI).

In this post-Title 42 era, CFIs are being conducted in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing facilities. This interview marks the critical first step towards seeking protection in the United States. During these interviews, an asylum officer determines the credibility of an individual’s fear of return. If deemed credible, people seeking asylum may be placed in removal proceedings with the opportunity to appear before an immigration judge after submitting their asylum application. My hope is that these people are allowed to undergo this process outside of detention, with their family support and most importantly, with legal representation. However, if found not credible, the asylum seeker will most likely receive an order of deportation with a five-year penalty. It’s important to note that those found not credible have the right to appeal the asylum officer’s decision before an immigration judge.

The power of knowledge and legal information 

Despite the numerous challenges and confusion, the individuals we had the privilege of serving remained resilient and steadfast, holding onto an unwavering hope for a better life, ensuring safety and security. Their determination in the face of adversity serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of restoring our asylum system and supporting refugees.

I want to emphasize to the reader the profound difficulties inherent in this post-Title 42 era and CFI process. Individuals who undergo this process face immense challenges. As an advocate for those seeking protection, it is beyond frustrating to witness the hardships they endure through this brutal process without proper access to information and legal representation. Detained in border processing ice facilities commonly referred to as "ice boxes" or "hieleras," individuals find themselves exhausted, deprived of communicating with their loved ones, and often separated from their families.

Despite the numerous hurdles, we were able to make a positive impact. I am confident that the small fraction of people we were able to assist received adequate legal support that will allow them to tell their stories and advocate for their rights to seek asylum. The sense of relief experienced by these individuals after engaging with Jones Day’s dedicated team of legal volunteers was palpable. They felt informed and prepared to share their stories with renewed courage. 

Understanding the harsh realities that asylum-seekers are currently facing is crucial in recognizing the urgent need for support and access to legal resources. Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. Our asylum system needs to be restored. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to feel informed and prepared to tell their unique story. Everyone deserves to feel safe and informed about their rights.

Taking Action: Support and Resources for Asylum-Seekers

I strongly urge you to join forces and support the Welcome with Dignity Campaign, Al Otro Lado, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Lawyers for Good Government, or any local NGO. Take action today by contacting your representatives and reminding them that we are a nation built on welcome and compassion. Let us reaffirm that seeking asylum is an essential human right that we fiercely uphold, and we won't back down!