Hawaii’s lack of pro bono lawyers affecting immigrant asylum

HONOLULU — A shortage of Hawaii attorneys who can handle cases on a pro bono basis is hampering the progress of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., officials said.

As many as 150 Central American migrants seeking asylum who have found their way to Hawaii from the southern U.S. border with Mexico need the free legal services, Hawaii Public Radio reported Thursday.

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About 40 migrant families from countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were sent to Hawaii, officials said. Many have fled violence.

“We have been seeing people arriving here in Hawaii quite often with no English skills whatsoever. They’re coming from pretty poor environments and they’re given a plane ticket and a notice to show up in court,” said John Egan of the Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Hawaii Law School.

Egan and his law students have taken a dozen pro bono cases of asylum-seekers, he said.

“Honestly, I have to say that some of these cases, we’re just taking them because no one else can. What we have started now is a new project to recruit volunteer lawyers who are not immigration attorneys and bring in additional legal help,” he said.

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Even though it is more likely migrants would win their cases if they have lawyers, there is no guarantee asylum would be granted, Egan said.

Egan said he hopes immigrants would make their court appearances in the coming months with lawyers by their side.

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