Cindy Grossman

As interviewed by Megan McIntosh, March 27, 2019

Cindy Grossman; In Her Own Words

"Interview of Cindy Grossman, an attorney that volunteers to help asylum seekers and refugees achieve citizenship in the United States.

Two years ago when the Trump administration passed what’s called the Muslim Ban, where they essentially halted immigration from seven Muslim majority countries. A bunch of people got caught up in that fiasco and I lived very close to the airport in Newark. That was one of the places where people were coming in from those countries and getting detained and it was just a total chaotic mess because they didn't understand our process, they didn't understand why they were getting detained, they had no lawyers, and it was just horrifying to watch. So I went out to Newark Airport and just kinda helped as much as I could not knowing anything about immigration law. There were actual immigration lawyers there but we had like a makeshift table set up at baggage claim where we were trying to identify people who were looking for passengers that weren’t coming off the plane, basically meaning that those passengers had been detained and so we’d connect with the family members, try and piece together where the passenger was. That was sort of chaos, boots on the ground type stuff but it opened my eyes to how important it is for these people to be represented by counsel.

Our asylum laws themselves have not caught up with the realities of the world. So you know some examples are these Central American immigrants coming from Honduras and El Salvador, and Guatemala where those countries are just absolutely ravished by gang violence. And the government is either inept or just doesn’t care, or corrupt or whatever. They don't have these situations under control and so these people are suffering at the hands of these gangs and the way that our asylum laws work that is not a valid asylum claim, like just being subject to gang violence. You have to fall into all these other categories which the gangs are not persecuting people because of their political beliefs or because of their religious beliefs they’re just extorting them for money but in a very violent way. You know that’s something that I have become much more aware of is just how deficient our asylum laws are and how it really needs to be improved, not only from an eligibility under the law but also just the process. It’s just so hard for someone to navigate it. It needs to be much, much easier. People should be able to do it without a lawyer.

A lot of times they don’t get a lawyer or they don’t know that they’re entitled to a free lawyer, even though they are given that information. The government gives them a sheet of paper that says here are a list of organizations you can call that will give you free council. Sometimes people call, and sometimes they don’t but the ones that do call and do get a lawyer have a much higher chance of actually winning asylum because it’s actually a really technical and complicated process. This is the first asylum case I’ve done so I’ve learned a lot of information about immigration law just from the ground up with this case but even as a lawyer who’s used to navigating very complicated tax law systems, I struggled even understanding our immigration system and the procedure and the technicalities of asylum law and so I can’t even imagine how an immigrant comes in and tries to navigate that on their own. It’s very, very difficult."