March 23, 2006

Jenner & Block recently hosted a training session in collaboration with the Midwest Immigrant & Human Rights Center (MIHRC) that provided a comprehensive overview of asylum law and practice.  The purpose of the program was to enable volunteer attorneys to assist persons who have fled persecution in their own countries and who wish to obtain asylum in the United States.

MIHRC Director Mary Meg McCarthy and Coordinator Keren Zwick led the session and explained the ins and outs of the asylum process, from the initial client interview to the immigration court hearing.  Among other things, Ms. McCarthy said that developing a rapport and building trust with the client is essential for lawyers to build a strong case that withstands scrutiny by the Department of Homeland Security and by the judge.  “The individuals in these cases may be very traumatized and are now in a whole new environment, so developing trust takes patience, preparation and sensitivity to that person’s situation,” she said.

Partner Lawrence S. Schaner, who serves on the Leadership Council of MIHRC and has handled more than a dozen asylum matters, helped to organize the event and in his introductory remarks said that attorneys should take on pro bono asylum cases because their work can “make a tremendous difference in the life of a deserving person.”  And, he noted, it’s an opportunity for attorneys to get trial experience early in their careers.

MIHRC provides direct legal services to low-income and impoverished immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.  It also monitors human rights conditions for such persons at the local, regional, national and international levels.