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Collaboration Seeks to Expand Access to Counsel for Asylum Seekers and Other Migrants

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) launched an initiative with the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., to provide lawyers to asylum seekers and advocate for an end to the criminalization of migration.

Over the past decade, the U.S. government has increasingly pursued a policy of criminally prosecuting migrants who enter or reenter the United States between official ports of entry or after they have been deported. Many of the migrants facing prosecution have valid claims to asylum, and the administration puts their lives at further risk when it insists on criminalizing their decision to flee in search of safety.

“With this partnership, our goal is to advance efforts to end the criminalization of migration,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “Seeking asylum is a recognized right under U.S. and international law and the criminalization of migrants seeking legal protection undermines those rights. Through the initiative, NIJC will expand access to legal services and engage in impact litigation and advocacy to eliminate the laws which result in the prosecution and imprisonment of people who come to our country seeking safety and freedom.”

NIJC has more than 30 years of experience providing immigration legal services, including immigration technical assistance to defense attorneys whose clients have been charged with criminal offenses. Since 2017, NIJC has worked closely with the Federal Defenders of San Diego, who represent migrants targeted for prosecution under Sections 1325 and 1326 of U.S. immigration law, including asylum seekers and parents separated from their children at the border. To support the new initiative, NIJC will engage its national network of 1,600 pro bono attorneys and seek to build new pro bono partnerships in the San Diego region.

“It has become clear that increasing access to immigration legal counsel for migrants facing prosecution is needed to uphold justice and protect people’s basic human rights,” said attorney Kara Hartzler of the Federal Defenders of San Diego. “We reached out to NIJC because of its legal expertise in representing immigrants and look forward to building this initiative together.”

Leading the project is human rights attorney Dorien Ediger-Seto, who has several years of experience representing immigrants and asylum seekers at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona and the Immigration Law Clinic at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. She developed her expertise in the intersection of immigration and criminal law at the Brooklyn Defender Services. She also has worked at the ACLU and the Immigrant Defense Project in New York. She is a graduate of the City University of New York School of Law, where she was a member of the Immigrant Rights Clinic.