Read IRAP’s op-ed on refugee access to legal counsel appearing in the Christian Science Monitor here.
Refugees applying for resettlement to the United States face an unknown and complicated legal system. Applications are written in English, the legal standards are entirely foreign, and important documentation may be missing or difficult to obtain for refugees who have fled their countries. Desperate for information, many applicants rely on rumors or advice from other refugees to help them prepare their applications. The complexities of this process have postponed, and often denied, many refugees the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. They instead remain living in unstable situations in countries neighboring Iraq, unable to work, without legal status, barely getting by.
The denial of a right to counsel lies at the source of many of these problems. The US does not fully recognize the right of refugees to have counsel represent them. Some government agencies refuse to communicate with counsel at all, and all agencies bar counsel from attending interviews. Without legal guidance, many worthy applicants are rejected.
Dana Montalto and Michelle Mangan of the Yale Law School IRAP chapter, in an op-ed appearing in the Christian Science Monitor, describe how the assistance of legal advocates would improve the refugee resettlement process immediately and tangibly – for both refugees and US officials.
A legal advocate could orient applicants to the resettlement process, advise them of the expected timeline, aid them in obtaining proper documentation, and prepare them to answer sensitive questions during interviews. Counsel could also attend interviews to ensure that interviewers follow fair procedure.
Allowing access to counsel would bring greater efficiency and, what’s more, greater justice, to the refugee application process. Now that U.S. troops have left Iraq, it has never been more important to demonstrate our continued commitment to Iraqi refugees.