Local attorney discusses border crisis

Local immigration attorney Kim Baker Medina speak about her work representing asylum seekers

Local immigration attorney Kim Baker Medina speak about her work representing asylum seekers at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ.

Asylum seekers

Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate everyone at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Fort Collins who came to hear local immigration attorney Kim Baker Medina speak about her work representing asylum seekers on World Refugee Day, June 23. In 2019 a record of more than 68 million people, including 25 million refugees, have been displaced or fled from their homes around the world.

Medina has been an immigration attorney for many years but over time the population she works with has changed radically. Beginning in 2014 there has been a growing spike in the arrival in Fort Collins of families from Central America seeking asylum. They come with their children, most often from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, to escape domestic and gang violence, for a chance to make a decent living, to escape social and political unrest, to live in a place where they feel safe. Some arrive as unaccompanied minors. Most cross the border from Mexico and turn themselves in to U.S. border authorities to apply for asylum, a right granted by international law. “I see at least one family or lone asylum seeker every day,” Medina says.

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Local immigration attorney Kim Baker Medina speak about her work representing asylum seekers at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ.
Kim Medina, Fort Collins immigration attorney

Most do not speak English and have little or no understanding of the obstacles they face. They are surprised when they learn they must undergo a legal process to obtain asylum. The first step is a “credible fear” interview where they must satisfy a judge that they are at risk in their own country. If successful, they are released to seek asylum through the court system. Unaccompanied minors must have a sponsor, either a parent or other relative or friend, before they can be released. Adults must wear an ankle bracelet, are not allowed to work, must meet with an ICE representative every week, and have one year to prove their case.

The burden of proof is always on the applicant and the courtroom process has been described by one judge as, “like a death penalty case conducted in a traffic court atmosphere.” Only a small percentage of asylum requests are granted. Recently new restrictions have been geared to further increasing the difficulty of receiving asylum. Domestic violence no longer qualifies, paperwork is presented in English, 10 pilot cities including Denver are enforcing expedited deportation, and many of the most recently hired judges come from the ranks of former government prosecutors.

“It has been the longest year of my professional life,” Medina admitted, pointing out that it has been a horrific time for all members of the legal community working with asylum seekers. She describes the local system as overwhelmed. She says it is impossible to do the research necessary to prepare a case within the 365-day time limit. “This administration is doing everything it can to keep us from pleading cases,” she said.

After working with a young woman seeking asylum starting in 2016, Medina recently had to tell her, “We are at the end. Nothing else can be done.”

There are no quick or easy fixes for the immigration crisis in the United States. While Medina is heartened by the fact that the issue is getting attention, she says the public needs to educate themselves by digging deeper, beyond easily accessible news. The only viable solution will cost the United States money in the form of aid to the Central American countries people are fleeing from and will not be accomplished quickly. Efforts must be made decrease corruption and violence and to make these countries places where people can live and prosper without fear.

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and Foothills Unitarian Church sponsor active groups of concerned individuals and can suggest ways in which people can become involved from donating money to providing rides to ICE check-ins, childcare, inexpensive housing or pro-bono healthcare.

SOA (School of America) Watch is a good source of information. People can also help by joining local groups such as ISAAC, the Interfaith Solidarity and Accompaniment Coalition. Regular trips to the border are organized to help people understand the enormity of the problem.

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and Foothills Unitarian Church sponsor active groups of concerned individuals and can suggest ways in which people can become involved from donating money to providing rides to ICE check-ins, childcare, inexpensive housing or pro-bono healthcare.

For more information contact Linda Mahan chair of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ Immigration Ministry Team at Lmahan@alum.bu.edu