Last week, Proskauer hosted a panel discussion focusing on the recent influx of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border and the urgent need for pro bono legal services. According to The New York Times, this past fiscal year nearly 2.5 million migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, which is two and a half times greater than the number from four years ago. The large number of recent arrivals has overwhelmed an already strained system, as demonstrated by the current backlog of three million immigration cases — which has doubled since 2021 — pending before just 800 judges. 

Proskauer, with co-counsel Public Counsel and Squire Patton Boggs, has filed a complaint in Arizona Federal Court on behalf of a mother and daughter from Guatemala who were forcibly separated after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. The lawsuit comes after negotiations with the Biden

On May 7, 2018, the United States implemented the “zero tolerance” family separation policy, directing immigration authorities to systematically separate children from their parents at the border, a practice that had been ongoing as early as November 2017.  The stated purpose of this policy was to deter future migrants from attempting to cross the border, including migrants seeking asylum in the United States fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries.  Although the government formally ended the policy in June 2018 following widespread public outcry, many hundreds of children remain separated from their parents.  To address this problem, on February 2, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order in an effort to reunite children separated from their families at the United States-Mexico border.  Numerous nonprofit agencies and law firms, including Proskauer, have stepped forward to help victims of family separation obtain humanitarian parole and become reunited with their families.

In 2014, I had the privilege of representing two extraordinary young asylum seekers who had fled from Macedonia, where, because they are a gay couple, they had suffered extreme homophobic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of civilians and police officers.  In 2021, I had the honor of helping them become U.S. citizens.

In reflecting on my clients’ seven-year journey to United States citizenship, I am reminded of how much has changed, but also how much has unfortunately remained the same and how far we have yet to go in the pursuit of LGBTQ human rights both at home and abroad.

The first of my two Macedonian clients arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the second client joined him here in May 2013, just one month before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013).  In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), through which Congress had sought to define “marriage” and “spouse” in more than 1,000 federal laws and federal regulations in a way that excluded same-sex spouses, thereby depriving them of the benefits that would come with federal recognition of their marriages and imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter same-sex marriages.”  Id. at 770.  The Supreme Court found that DOMA deprived gay and lesbian married couples of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment because it interfered with the equal dignity of marriages under State laws recognizing marriage between same-sex spouses.

On February 5, 2021, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) granted asylum to our client, a gay man who suffered horrific violence based on his sexual orientation.  For their own homophobic reasons, the police in his country of origin refused to investigate the hate crimes that were committed against him.   Fearing for his life, our client fled to the United States.  Now that he has received asylum, he can live and work in the United States indefinitely.

The modern asylum system grew out of a reaction to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.  In 1951, the United Nations defined a refugee as any individual not able to return to his or her home country because of a well-founded fear of future persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.  The United States later signed onto this system, and in the 1990s, officially recognized that persecution due to one’s sexual orientation can qualify as a basis for asylum.