Internship brings opportunity to advocate for Ethiopian immigrant
For 3L JoRae Bishop, issues of immigration are nothing new. “I grew up as a minority in El Paso, Texas, a community of immigrants. I’ve always been aware of immigration issues.”
So, a summer internship at an immigration agency was simply the natural progression in her legal career.
El Paso’s Las Americas, an immigrant advocacy center, handles three types of immigration cases: unaccompanied minors, woman who are victims of abuse, and asylum seekers. As an intern, JoRae was able to engage cases that fell within each category, but her summer centered on a particular contested asylum case.
“The client that I spent the most time with was a young Ethiopian man, persecuted because of his membership in a minority tribe in that country,” JoRae said. “He was forced with the choice of staying in Ethiopia and facing death or fleeing to the United States.”
Her client chose the risky path of fleeing. Having no promises once he arrived in the States, he ended up in a detention center in El Paso. There, JoRae met with him once a week to develop his story.
“He’d been through so much but laughed so freely,” she said. “He was childlike, but clearly knew one thing: America stood for democracy and freedom. It was the one place he believed his life would be spared.”
As Attorney of Record on the case, JoRae was tasked with everything necessary to apply for asylum. She developed a timeline of her client’s life, tracked every graphic detail of his persecution, and gathered supporting evidence, which involved researching country-specific facts and contacting experts to testify at trial. She wrote and submitted the brief, and because the hearing was in September, she flew back to Texas from school to spend 6 hours in court arguing the case.
Despite a vigorous contest from the government attorney, JoRae’s client was granted asylum on September 17th. While the government still has until October 21st to appeal, her client is free at this moment.
But while her legal obligation is over, her client’s freedom uncovered a missing link in the process for immigrants awarded asylum that she can’t ignore. Despite being the second largest port-of-entry for immigrants in the United States, El Paso has few resources for immigrants. “There is no rehabilitation or resettlement program in El Paso,” said JoRae disbelievingly. “Once an immigrant is granted asylum, they are entitled to stipends, food stamps, Medicaid, and social security. But if there’s no agency for those benefits to funnel through, the beneficiary doesn’t receive them.”
Consequently, JoRae is working from Virginia Beach to make sure the correct paperwork is filed and that her client has access to networks he needs to meet his immediate needs such as housing and food.
“I believe in a holistic approach to helping people,” JoRae said. “You need to meet their needs in the moment. Just because my legal duties are over, doesn’t mean I quit.”
Advocacy - really taking on a client’s case and discovering what his best interest is - is the largest lesson of JoRae’s summer. But she’s convinced her advocacy skills aren’t what got her a favorable verdict. “The thing that really won this case is my client’s story,” she said. “Granting asylum is discretionary. The bottom line is that the judge believed him. We were able to discover and construct his story from beginning to end, without any holes, so that he could tell it. For a deserving immigrant, lawyers have the power to make that happen.”