For the past 17 years, DePaul law students have gone to Harlingen, Texas on the United States-Mexico border, to participate in the Spring Break Border Project.
Over the course of a week, DePaul students volunteered their services to help detained immigrants in the city through the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), which supervised the students and works toward gaining asylum for detained immigrants.
Many of the immigrants ProBAR helps fled their country due to persecution. The organization defends these immigrants from being deported back to harmful situations.
Asylum seekers face many barriers, such as language, lack of knowledge of the courts and lack of proper documentation that prevent them from mounting their case and obtaining refuge in the United States.
In order to help immigrants, ProBAR works with community-based programs, immigration courts and the organized bar to identify detained immigrants seeking asylum who have a strong claim for it.
To begin the process in Texas, students travel to detention facilities and experience the clients’ reality first hand. Harlingen is home to two major detention facilities, Port Isabel Service Processing Center, which houses around 1,200 immigrants, and Willacy Detention Center, which houses around 3,000 individuals.
The detention facilities are not limited to adults, and DePaul students also have the chance to work with children going through the process.
At detention facilities, students interviewed their assigned clients, conducted research, gathered evidence and prepared legal documentation in order to prepare their cases.
The process students go through while working on a case is vital because it allowed them to gain real-world experience in researching, documenting a case, client communication skills and trial participation. The work in Texas is much different than any immigration work in Illinois, given the drastically different locations.
In Harlingen, students mainly dealt with immigrants who have just crossed the border, as opposed to immigrants who made it into the country and are trying to settle down.
This type of first-line work is unique to anything students can find in the Midwest and provided a new opportunity to learn.
Professor Sioban Albiol, an asylum and immigration law clinic instructor and coordinator of the legal resources project director, said “Equally important as the educational opportunities provided to the students is the opportunity for the asylum-seekers to gain full access to the courts.”
It is proven that asylum-seekers who are represented by an attorney are three times more likely to win in court. However, gaining asylum is a long process, and sometimes students won’t hear the verdict on the case they have worked on for months or even years. But in the case the client gains asylum later on, the process becomes so much more rewarding.