Immigration Justice Campaign is an initiative of American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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Hamsa Mahendranathan

Meet Hamsa, an associate at Constantine Cannon LLP with a background in whistleblower litigation and mortgage-backed securities litigation.

“Last January, I was commiserating with a partner at my firm after the first iteration of the Muslim ban about how I just didn’t know how to be helpful. As a lawyer, I felt I should be able to do something but I didn’t know how to begin or where I could be most useful. A few weeks later, the partner circulated an email from the Justice Campaign about representing asylum seekers detained in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I didn’t intend to take on an asylum case at that time, but I responded to her email anyway because I just wanted to get more information. A few of us who were interested started meeting regularly, and when the opportunity arose to join the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a partner of the American Immigrant Representation Project (AIRP) and the Justice Campaign, to do intake interviews, we jumped on it. At the intake visit, I spoke to the immigration attorneys at AFSC and they walked me through the immigration process. Hearing a straightforward assessment of the process and potential pitfalls helped me get over my initial apprehension. The next time AIRP and the Justice Campaign circulated an asylum case, I volunteered!

My client is a gay man who was persecuted in his home country because of his sexuality. He was beaten repeatedly, but the police did nothing. The government in his country implicitly condones violence against gay men so he had no legal recourse. He hid his sexuality for years, moving every time he was outed. Then, his partner was murdered. Fearing for his life, my client escaped to the U.S. He was detained upon arrival and remained in detention for months.

I’d spoken with my client in-person, at least half a dozen times, sometimes for hours at a time. He displayed next-to-no-emotion at all of those meetings. However, when he was granted asylum, he couldn’t contain his joy. He now lives in an apartment with other immigrants and he’s started working in retail. Although we live less than ten minutes apart, he doesn’t contact me often. But he does text me every single holiday to wish me well!

For attorneys with little to no removal defense experience who are interested in AIRP and the Justice Campaign, I suggest joining an immigration defense organization while their attorneys are interviewing intakes at a detention center. Through the Justice Campaign, I went on an intake trip with the AFSC. Not only was the trip an easy way to familiarize myself with my future client’s detention center, it was also a chance to informally “grill” the immigration attorneys on the trip. The AFSC attorneys talked me through the asylum process and explained how to navigate the immigration court system. The Justice Campaign also made sure we had access to veteran immigration attorneys for both big-picture strategy advice as well as day-to-day procedural questions. I won’t pretend that my first solo case was completely stress-free. I’m not sure how you can avoid the stress if you care about the outcome for your client. But the resources available through the Justice Campaign made it so much easier. Plus, watching my client win his asylum case and leave the detention center made the stress incredibly worthwhile!”