When I volunteered in Mexico last spring with two Proskauer colleagues alongside the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI), I witnessed a growing humanitarian crisis. The U.S. “Remain in Mexico” Policy – officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – requires asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings, a requirement that puts thousands of people in danger. A report issued last week by Human Rights First confirms the danger by detailing current conditions faced by the more than 60,000 migrants now waiting in Mexico. In particular, the report finds:

  • There have been widespread reports of kidnapping, rape, torture, assault, and other violent crimes against migrants returned to Mexico under MPP.  Indeed, according to the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego, one in four migrants in Tijuana and Mexicali have been threatened with physical violence.
  • Contrary to U.S. policy, vulnerable individuals, including those with serious medical issues, pregnant women, LGBTQ persons, and Mexican nationals have been among those returned to Mexico.
  • Migrants stranded in Mexico do not have access to adequate shelter, healthcare or other necessities. The lack of safe shelter has left thousands homeless and especially susceptible to violent crime.
  • Requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico has made it difficult for them to attend U.S. immigration court hearings, and to secure counsel. Nearly 98% of MPP returnees did not have lawyers as of the end of September.

In addition to MPP, asylum seekers at the southern border are now facing an even greater impediment. In July, the Administration issued an interim final rule barring asylum – with certain narrow exceptions – for those who did not apply for asylum in a country through which they travelled en route to the United States. This is in litigation but the Supreme Court, in a single paragraph order, permitted the policy to go forward while the case is pending. According to Justice Sotomayor, in a powerful dissent, “Once again the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek protection from persecution.”

When I left Mexico months ago — with desperate, tearful images of entire families fleeing violence seared into my mind — I could not imagine the situation on the ground getting any worse. But it has, with every new immigration policy the situation worsens at great cost in human lives and our identity as a nation.

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.