Attorneys cross border in Brownsville to help asylum seekers

Migrants seeking asylum wait in line with their case paperwork to meet with attorney Jodi Goodwin Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, during a weekly trip by volunteers, lawyers, paralegals and interpreters to the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico. Under the Migrant Protection Protocols, asylum applicants must wait in Mexico for their case to be resolved. (Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

BROWNSVILLE — Local attorney Jodi Goodwin and a volunteer team of interpreters, attorneys and paralegals cross to Matamoros to help asylum seekers with their cases every week.

With folding wagons full of blue binders that carry the paperwork for the individual cases, the legal team makes their way across the Gateway International Bridge and sits under the sun for hours, helping the never-ending line of people who live in tents at La Plaza.

“I think it is necessary, any process that is to be fair and due and judicial, for people to be able to have access to legal counsel, and the MPP (Migrant Protection Protocol) program really destroys any possibility of access to legal counsel by making everyone wait in Mexico … Without access to legal counsel there is no way that people’s situation can be better,” Goodwin said.

“We have a local of team of volunteers that it is about 10 different attorneys and paralegals that regularly help out, and then when we have the workshop programs on the weekends there is usually about anywhere from six to eight attorneys that come in from other parts of the United States to help with the workshops.”

One of the hundreds of migrants seeking assistance from the attorneys is a 26-year-old woman from Honduras.

“We are not here trying to enter the United States and take things away from other people. We are here because we want to work and provide a better future for our children,” KC, who wished to remain anonymous for protection, said in an interview while she was in line to get help from the attorneys. “(Here) we have to shower in the river … my daughter has a rash and fever.”

KC has been waiting at the bridge for two months. She came from Honduras with her 3-year-old daughter to escape violence in her city. She said gangs killed some of her family members and threatened to kill her next.

“In the future I would love for my daughter to accomplish all the goals that she sets for her, to go to school and become someone who excels me.”

Attorney Jodi Goodwin leafs through casework binders to find a specific file Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico. (Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

Goodwin and the team of volunteers are helping more than 800 migrants with their asylum cases as part of “Lawyers for Good Government,” an organization that was created in the wake of the 2016 election to defend the values, principles, individuals and communities that make up the United States. Their mission is to protect and strengthen democratic institutions, resist abuse of power, corruption and defend the rights of those who suffer in the absence of good government, the official website reads.

“We work with (asylum seekers) on understanding asylum laws. We work with them to help them fill out the forms, we translate the forms because, of course, they fill them out in Spanish, and we bring them back and we use volunteers throughout the United States to help us to translate the forms,” Goodwin said. “We have over 800 people that are signed up for legal services … We definitely need translators, we have a lot of documents that need to be translated. So, anyone who is competent in Spanish and English that can translate Spanish documents into English for court that would be a huge, huge help.”

Under President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy an estimated 42,000 people are waiting in Mexico until their asylum cases get resolved, the Associated Press reported. Of those, at least 2,000 people are waiting in Matamoros.

The policy, officially known as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” went into effect in January. The Trump administration claims most migrants fail to appear for their court hearings if they are released in the United States to justify making asylum seekers stay in Mexico. However, from fiscal year 2013 to 2017 only 6 to 11 percent of asylum cases per year received deportation orders for not showing up to court, according to the most recent statistics yearbook from the Justice Department’s Executive Officer for Immigration Review.

To help the attorneys email mppmatamoros@gmail.com.

nreyna@brownsvilleherald.com