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Why an immigration attorney sees a need in the Wood River Valley

Luis Campos
Jay Graham
Luis Campos

Last fall, nonprofit organizations in the Wood River Valley estimated hundreds of new immigrants were arriving to the community, fleeing countries such as Peru.

An immigrant rights group called The Alliance of Idaho noticed a gap: there were no bilingual immigration attorneys in the valley.

That’s where Luis Campos comes in.

He’s a lawyer who has worked for the past several years along the U.S.-Mexico Border. But more recently, he’s been spending a week every month in the Wood River Valley.

Now, the Alliance has brought him on full-time, and he’s representing 15 to 20 families in their asylum cases.

Reporter Rachel Cohen spoke with Mr. Campos in his Bellevue office about why he thinks there’s a need for immigration attorneys in Blaine County.

(Campos): Well, there's a significant immigrant population, and I was quite surprised to find out that, in fact, there's a sizable Peruvian community in the valley. So many of the Peruvians who have arrived, have arrived more recently, and they have gone through the process at the border where they're detained and ultimately released and make their way up into the valley to be with friends or family. And then they are still subject to what we call removal or deportation proceedings here in the valley.

What does that mean your work looks like here? 

So my work is primarily asylum work. Most of the Peruvians that have arrived, especially those that have arrived in the last year to two years, are fleeing a very difficult situation in Peru. They’re on the run and they come here.

People here who are seeking asylum – what does that mean that they've already done, procedurally, before they've gotten here?

Most individuals that we encounter arrive at the southern border – Arizona, Texas, California – and they request refuge or asylum in the United States. Most individuals do not try to enter the country undetected and escape into the interior. So individuals typically will be detained for a significant period of time.

And those individuals must demonstrate that they have a credible fear of return to their home country. This is the initial threshold determination. If they cannot demonstrate credible fear, they will be returned to the home country under an order of removal or deportation. If they can show that they have sufficient credible fear, then they are typically released after significant vetting. They're often released with many conditions. For example, sometimes there are ankle monitors placed on the individuals. Others are provided with telephones and so that there's tracking devices and so forth.

So individuals who have arrived here have typically gone through this process. Now, it's important also to underscore that not everyone will get asylum. So there are many asylum seekers who ultimately lose their cases. It is a difficult process. The criteria is very complex and not everyone gets asylum.

What are some examples of things that would qualify versus would not qualify?

So not everyone's, I'll call it a “fact pattern” because that's what we call it in the law. But not everyone's “fact pattern" will satisfy the requirements of asylum law. So when we meet with people, we ask individuals to tell us their story, to provide a narrative as to what led them to leave their home country. And not everyone will provide a narrative that is conducive to really success in immigration court on an asylum claim.

One must demonstrate that they were individually targeted and persecuted. That's the first thing. The second thing is on account of one of the five grounds. So we have to link the persecution and understand the persecutors motivation. It must be on account of our client's politics or political opinion on account of our client's religion, for example, race or ethnicity, nationality, or if our client belongs to what we call a particular social group in the home country that is vulnerable. So, for example, women who are victims of domestic violence in the home country could seek asylum in the United States. They would fall under that category. Another example would be sexual orientation.

So the criteria is very strict. And if we can find some legal relief or remedy in those stories, then we will do everything we can to make sure it happens for them.

And if you don't find that, what, generally, is your advice to those people?

Quite frankly, if there is absolutely no remedy for them to stay here, really, the fallback is what we call a voluntary departure, which we recommend to the clients because we don't want people to be deported. Deportation, of course, is much more stigmatized and it's punishable – you can't return for a significant period of time to the United States. Now, we also know the reality and the reality is that many people, if they don't have a legal remedy or relief and they are going to lose their case, there are some folks who will remain out of pure necessity.

You've said that in addition to there being an established Peruvian community here, there are also work opportunities here.

Absolutely. So I think that unfortunately, our US immigration laws and policies do not reflect economic reality and economic realities, that there are many communities in the United States that need workers and there are employers who would like to have workers. And there is a growing body of individuals who are willing to work hard and meet that need in the United States. I think the impulse is to try to keep people out despite the reality of there being jobs and there are people willing to take those jobs.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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