Anita Sharma, executive director of the PAIR Project.
At a recent well-attended training at 16 Beacon Street, the Boston Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project brought experts in the legal and medical fields to talk about best practices for representing asylum seekers.
The training was geared toward those who have never taken on an asylum case before, and introduced attendees to PAIR’s method of assigning teams of attorneys to tackle these multifaceted, challenging cases. PAIR’s executive director, Anita Sharma, stressed the importance of teamwork, creative thinking and empathy in asylum cases, which require a mix of legal prowess and sensitivity from attorneys.
“It’s one thing to read the language of this law, but when you are dealing with an actual human being who has been through terrible trauma, and you’re trying to … check off all the boxes (to make sure they meet the qualifications to obtain asylum), it becomes very difficult,” she said.
Even a phrase as seemingly straightforward as a “well-founded fear of persecution,” which one must demonstrate to qualify for asylum, is subject to multiple interpretations. The panel of experts walked attendees through each piece of the legal requirements for asylum. They also discussed the distinction between asylum status and refugee status, gave tips on working with interpreters, and offered advice on coaxing clients to talk about what they have endured.
“It’s human instinct: you go through something horrible and you want to forget it. But we (as attorneys) are in this terrible position where we have to ask for every single detail” in order to strengthen the client’s case, Sharma said.
Sonda Crosby, a physician at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, spoke about the importance of a forensic medical examination in proving a client’s claims in a situation where they have been physically harmed.
Ilana Greenstein (Law Office of Macias & Greenstein) and David McHaffey (McHaffey & Associates) also lent their expertise to the training.
Check out our calendar page for more public service programs and pro bono trainings and if you’re interested in volunteer opportunities related to immigration issues, please complete this online survey.
The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project is a 2016 Grantee of the Boston Bar Foundation.