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Immigration Attorneys Prepare to Represent Detained Women in Asylum Cases

Joy Diaz/KUT News
Immigration attorneys take notes in a mock courtroom. The attorneys are undergoing training to represent women and children in asylum cases.

For the mothers and children detained at an immigrant facility in Karnes County, about 100 miles south of Austin, their best chance for release is to find attorneys willing to represent them pro bono.

And in turn, the lawyers willing to take on these cases need specific training. So this week at the University of Texas School of Law, a group of immigration attorneys attended a training session to brush up on the type of asylum cases faced by the women and children housed at Karnes County Residential Center.

A group of about 70 attorneys sat in a mock courtroom Monday, taking notes as mock proceedings took place.

Attorney Denise Gilman acted as the judge, while attorney Barbara Hines acted as the client's attorney. Another attorney played the role of a Karnes detainee.

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT News
A mock trial helps lawyers prepare to represent detained women at Karnes.
Credit Courtesy of Paul Parsons
A flier advertising legal services for immigrant detainees from a 'non-lawyer.' (Click to enlarge.)

This training is important because the mothers and children in detention are seeking asylum. Asylum requests are not routine, so attorneys need to brush up on their skills. For these women and children, the stakes are high: One legal misstep and the detained family's future could be jeopardized.

Not everyone understands the risks involved, so some detained women choose to represent themselves.

Also, not everyone is as ethical as the attorneys in this week's training session.

Austin-based immigration attorney Paul Parsons says he recently obtained a copy of a flier that was being passed around at an immigrant detention center. He says the flier advertised the services of a "non-lawyer."

"[He] was seeking money to falsely promise that the detained immigrant could be released," Parsons says.

That "non-lawyer" is Edwin Zavala. He works for a non-profit based in Louisiana called United Immigration Consulting LLC (UIC).

Zavala says he's not an attorney, and UIC currently doesn't have attorneys on staff.

"You do not need to be an attorney to file for asylum or to request a bond," Zavala says.

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT News
Attorney Andrea Meza plays the role of the client in the mock trial.

All of that is true, but the important difference is accountability. Attorneys can be disbarred for running cases unethically, whereas "non-lawyers" can simply disappear.

And that's what often happens, according to Parsons. "Foreign nationals are happy to pay for hope. Commonly, they lose their money, and they never receive any immigration relief."

That's in part why the gathering of the 70 attorneys at UT this week was so crucial. The lawyers were given samples of the forms their clients will need. They also did some role-play and learned the key words important to these proceedings.

The attorneys there said that this asylum process was very different to what many of them are used to. 

Approximately 120 women and children are currently detained at Karnes.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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