Dear Asylum Lawyers:

I get a request to work on your cases as an expert witness about 2-3 times a month, sometimes more frequently. You generally have very compelling cases, and are dedicated to your asylum clients, whether you are a student, a full-time cause attorney, or a corporate lawyer taking on a pro-bono case in an effort to cleanse your soul. And while I empathize with your clients' situations, I have deeply ambivalent feelings about doing asylum work. The practice of asylum reinforces a narrative that I find profoundly offensive, in which other states and cultures are painted as egregious human rights offenders (which of course often states are, but never precisely following the simplistic narrative allowed by the stylized theater of the law and the court), and the United States, by contrast, is painted as a human rights savior--the asylum-granting land of justice. This contrasts with the reality in which the United States is often directly responsible for human rights abuses suffered by asylum applicants at the hands of foreign states. The U.S. federal court performance of asylum granting ritually exculpates it for this role.

I have a full-time job, and spend the equivalent of another full-time job in solidarity work that I do find meaningful, legitimate and effective. Given how little I believe individual asylum cases can actually do in terms of directly challenging the political causes of human rights violations in Honduras, acting as an expert witness has remained a low priority for me. That said, I have taken on a few cases a year for the past decade. And as you know (if you are one of the people writing me requesting my help), a majority of the clients for whom I have testified on gang, domestic abuse, and LGBTQ-related persecution in Honduras have been granted asylum.

So if you are writing me requesting help, chances are the answer will be no. That said, I myself am urgently seeking legal help for a friend, and would gladly take on your case (or cases—I'm open to negotiation) pro-bono if you can secure for me the services of a personal injury lawyer or any litigator in Colorado—preferably in one of the larger cities—willing to take on a personal injury case for assault and battery on a pro-bono basis. Liability is clear cut and injury is severe, but the defendant has few if any assets.

Respectfully yours,
Adrienne Pine


citizenship lawyers, too

I don't know if citizenship lawyers use expert testimonies as often as they do in asylum cases, but I have similar feelings about how their time is spent. Many of the immigration groups in my field site focus almost exclusively on citizenship and paperwork, or in getting undocumented folks their Mexican ID. Yet none of these activities address the root problems. In fact, granting citizenship and entitlement for some has only served to create more racist attitudes and policies in places like Greenfield, CA, where 3rd and 4th generation browned skinned folks in the middle classes are mobilizing politically to take away all the advocacy groups, services, and safety nets that were established mostly with external grant money to help out newer, mostly indigenous Mexicans. I attended a few immigration action group meetings, but quickly became frustrated not only with the lack of critical organizing efforts, but also with the idea of the citizenship path as the principle solution.

Some indigenous Oaxacans are also qualifying for asylum (mostly those from the Triqui regions, where the political slaughter is especially routine). I admit feeling relief for my compas that have won their asylum cases, but I also worry about how those who are not granted this selective privilege will fair; how will these new dynamics affect their relationships with one another? One non-indigenous woman from a Southern Mexican city notorious for the activity of its drug cartels asked me if any families had been granted asylum due to the overall danger of living everyday life amidst the war on drugs. I told her I didn't know, and had not heard of any cases like that. I did hear of one family that threw in the towel and bought a house in CA because they could no longer afford the extortion and threats along their migration path between CA and Guadalajara. My compañera yearns to go home, but at the same time, wishes her mom and three kids could be with her here despite the violence of everyday life living undocumented in the U.S.