Most of them recently arrived in Snohomish County after traveling through multiple countries. Seattle University said they were granted humanitarian parole, which is temporary. A grant of asylum offers permanent protection, but the process can take up to two years. Students are helping those seeking asylum fill out applications for the designation, and then they'll be directed to affordable legal services to complete the process.
Associate Professor Deirdre Bowen, the Moccasin Lake Foundation Chair in Family Law, connected attorney mentors with students recruited from her classes to conduct the seminars.
"[Applying for asylum is] very challenging; I do not want to understate the level of challenge," said Bowen. "It is a years-long practice because the government is so backed up with asylum applications that it can take a year or more to get the initial interview with the asylum officer, and sometimes from there it goes to court."
Students at the clinic helped families fill out the initial applications with the assistance of local attorneys for oversight. They'll also revisit those cases as applicants work through the process.
"It's just been so hard to be here and watch all that happen," said Gabriel Neuman, one of the students volunteering for the session. "When I saw this was an opportunity for us to be involved and do something and help folks, I jumped on the opportunity."
Seattle University partnered with Refugee and Immigrant Services, which is working to help relocate refugees, to put on the clinic.
"Whatever I can do to help and change their situation even a little bit was important to me," said Dorsa Bazeghi, another student helping with the clinic.
While the students see it as a way to help, Seattle University said it's also a way to strengthen their holistic legal education.
"One thing we sometimes forget as lawyers is, there's the law, I have to meet certain legal standards," said Bowen. "This is an opportunity for them to see beyond the case book that there are human beings that have a lived experience, and some of these refugees today have been through a horribly, horribly traumatic experience, and I want them to develop the empathy to always remember that these are human beings and part of your lawyering skills are to learn empathy."
Bowen said the need for help like this will only grow as more refugees arrive in the United States. They will continue legal aid services and welcome local attorneys willing to help.