U students experience flawed immigration system

As immigration issues continue to frequent court rooms, political speeches and circles of public debate, about 70 first-year law students helped undocumented immigrants work their way through the legal process during their winter break. The law students, who were all members of the Asylum Law Project spent about a week scattered across the country volunteering with nonprofit legal aid organizations that specialize in assisting undocumented immigrants. The students filed briefs, met with clients and helped lawyers fight through their heavy caseloads. Asylum Law Project President Jordan Shepherd volunteered in border town El Paso, Texas and said it was an invaluable experience. âÄúI was finally able to get my hands dirty in law,âÄù Shepherd said. âÄúIt was a lot of peopleâÄôs first opportunity to get actual legal experience.âÄù While the students enjoyed their first taste of legal work, they also witnessed glaring problems with the current immigration system. âÄúThere are difficult things that lie ahead for [immigrants],âÄù Shepherd said. âÄúImmigration courts have their hands full.âÄù

Problems in border town

First-year law student Matthew Webster also volunteered in El Paso and said that he met with many detainees who were being held in detention for unreasonably long time periods. Webster said he met a man from Mexico who had been held at the immigration detention center for about 14 months and the man still did not know where he was going to be sent. He also said there were children detained in El Paso; the youngest he saw was only six months old. âÄúMost of the rhetoric focuses on crimes or laws but too often we forget these are people,âÄù Webster said. There are three centers that detain children in El Paso, and combined they can hold about 160 children, said Adriana Salcedo, a lawyer who worked with the law students in El Paso. In the summer theyâÄôre completely full. SalcedoâÄôs organization, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, located in El Paso, turns away clients every week because case loads are too heavy. Undocumented immigrants are not appointed an attorney because they are not U.S. citizens, Salcedo said. If they cannot afford a lawyer and they are not lucky enough to get representation from a nonprofit organization, they are forced to explore their legal options on their own. Salcedo said some detained undocumented immigrants simply choose deportation instead trying to work through the legal system. âÄúThey do not know what their legal rights are and they donâÄôt recognize they have some sort of immigration relief,âÄù Salcedo said.

Border fence controversy

University student Webster marched 125 miles along the Texas border last March to protest the 670-mile border fence , which is currently under construction and is projected to cost about $1.6 billion. Only days after Webster returned from his volunteer trip with the Asylum Law Project this January, the Texas Border Coalition asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case, which claims the fence violates a variety of state and local laws. Proponents of the border fence argue that it will reduce crime and drug trafficking by undocumented immigrants, and many politicians voted in favor of it in the Senate in 2006, including President Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. However, Chad Foster, chairman of TBC and mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas âÄî another border town âÄî said the fence is a waste of resources and will only slow much needed immigration reform. The fence is currently under construction in Eagle Pass. According to Foster, border security and undocumented immigration are not a border town problem, but rather a national problem. âÄúIf you want to clean up undocumented immigrants you have to start within the Beltway because they are serving the Department of Homeland Security coffee,âÄù Foster said. Increasing the amount of border patrol and implementing more new technology to guard the border would be far more effective than a border fence, Foster said. Foster said he has good relationships with some politicians in Mexico, and working with his neighbors to the south is far more productive than trying to fence them off and lock them out. But proponents of the fence have given Foster plenty of heat for his stance on border security. âÄúIâÄôve been called a narcotraficante ,âÄù he said. âÄúPeople ask me if IâÄôm an American.âÄù