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Influx of Central American Asylum Seekers

Thursday, October 23, 2003

  • By: Claire Reichstein
  • Organization: Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights

Influx of Central American Asylum Seekers - Is There Really Peace in Guatemala?

By Claire Reichstein and Elizabeth Marenco

Katherine Zarate of Thelen Reid & Priest, LLP was just out of law school when she volunteered as Jose Luis Navarro-Guiermo's pro bono attorney. Jose Luis fled Guatemala after being beaten and abducted by Guatemalan authorities to seek refuge in the U.S. After hours of work to develop trust, Katherine learned that Jose Luis was terrified of presenting himself to U.S. authorities because of his traumatic experiences in Guatemala, "Piece by piece, we figured it out: the symbol of authority was something that really scared our client."

Julie and John Corcoran of Thelen Reid and Joye Wiley of Ark & Wiley lent their expertise. Through their hard work, the pro bono team persuaded the Immigration Judge that Jose Luis deserved asylum, based on the persecution he had suffered. Katherine notes that while the case was procedurally difficult, "It was just such a rich story, with its twists and turns. It was just like life."

This year, the following volunteer attorneys and law firms have successfully represented Guatemalan refugees:

-- Jacquelyn Newman and mentor Jill Stanton, both private practitioners
-- Theresa Cabral of Morrison & Foerster with mentors Karen Musalo and Stephen Knight of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies
-- Caroline Davidson of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin and mentor Alice Hall, a private practitioner
-- Ashley Dunning of Steefel Levitt & Weiss and mentor Kelly McCown of Tafapolksy Smith Evans & McCown
-- John Throckmorton and Sean SeLegue of Rogers Joseph O'Donnell & Phillips and mentor Amos Lawrence, private practitioner.

Special thanks to our Spanish interpreters: Sergio Almaguer, Carlos Vazquez, Evy Leiva, Lucy Gerace, Joaquin Acuna, Gustavo Struck, and Aida Howell.

The continuing migration of Guatemalan refugees raises basic questions about the human rights situation in Guatemala. Is there really peace in Guatemala? During Guatemala's 36-year civil war, the army destroyed entire villages of Mayan Indians and "disappeared" over 190,000 Guatemalans. The 1996 Guatemalan Peace Accords ended the civil war, but the legacy of the war continues and many are without hope that the government will ever prosecute war criminals and human rights violators.

We ask our pro bono community to join us in assisting with future asylum cases. Please let us know if you are interested in representing a Guatemalan asylum seeker.


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