Keeping Immigrant Families Together


For immigrant families who are released from detention, the celebration may be short lived. Whether they were detained together or separated at the border, those who are released must still navigate a wildly complicated immigration system, and many must do so without a lawyer.

Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants do not have a right to an attorney in deportation proceedings because their cases are considered civil matters. Many asylum seekers don’t speak English, and even if they did, they stand little chance against trained government lawyers arguing they be deported.

Fighting to stay in the U.S.

Once immigrant families are reunited, they face a series of other obstacles after their release – long, complex legal proceedings, and possibly deportation. Some families are only partially unified; a child may be released with his mother, for instance, while the father remains in detention.

At the same time, they are also dealing with adjusting to life in a new country. Families must find a place to live, enroll their children in school and find a way to financially support themselves.

All the while, the clock is ticking on their legal cases: asylum seekers are eligible to apply for asylum protection for up to one year from their entry into the United States.

Keeping Families Together

Applying for asylum is an arduous and resource-intensive process. Asylum seekers are required to file a Form I-589, an extensive 12-page application where they must describe in detail the harm they face in their home country. Families must also gather documents to support their case, such as photographs, medical and police reports, and personal statements. Experienced legal assistance is critical:

Immigrant women with children are 14 times more likely to avoid deportation when they have an attorney.

Many asylum seekers are fleeing extreme danger – political unrest, gender violence, forced gang recruitment and extreme poverty. If deported, they face the same brutal conditions they sought to escape.

Legal Representation Can Make All the Difference

This fall, De Novo launched the new Family Post-detention Project to provide urgently-needed legal assistance to Central American mothers and children who have been released from family detention centers and relocated to Massachusetts. The Project is led by Legal Fellow Jill Seeber, Esq., an international finance lawyer and immigration advocate who has represented asylum seekers detained along the U.S. southern border since 2015.

Every week, the Project proactively reaches out to released families who have settled in the region to let them know legal help is available, especially those nearing their one-year filing deadlines. Clients are able to consult with an experienced immigration attorney and are assisted in preparing their applications for asylum. They also receive help in applying for work authorization, access to interpreters and case management support, and referrals to De Novo’s Counseling Program for mental health services.