According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), there are more than 32,000 cases pending in Georgia’s immigration court in fiscal year 2019, making the state the 10th most backlogged in the nation. This abysmal situation inspired immigration attorney Martin Rosenbluth to relocate from Raleigh, N.C. to a home near Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia to represent detainees.
“I’ve been doing human rights law for more than 20 years and I’ve never felt more like I did more to impact people’s lives than I have in the two years at Stewart Detention Center,” said Rosenbluth.
On September 19, he and immigration attorney Carolina Antonini (J.D. ’96) led a discussion in the College of Law about the state of immigration in Georgia. Emily Torstveit Ngara, the director of Georgia State Law’s new Immigration Clinic, moderated the conversation.
They started by talking about the day-to-day demands of being an immigration attorney. Antonini, who is from Venezuela, has been practicing in the Atlanta immigration court since 1996. She described many occasions of promising her husband that she would take a weekend off, then going in the bathroom and pretending to take a shower, when she was really working on her laptop.
“Being an immigration attorney is very difficult,” said Antonini. “You win one and 5,000 more multiply by the time you get in the office. Your win rate is not very high. It is a job that will keep you up at night, and it’s a job that will keep you working.”
Rosenbluth recalled that his first time sitting in the Atlanta immigration court– he saw 25 people deported in 35 minutes. At Stewart, where Rosenbluth often appears, 96 percent of asylum cases are denied. Most courts average 30-40 percent. He says that his firm has been able to get one person out of Stewart per week for two and half years.
“Several times per week, I’ll meet with prospective clients for asylum cases,” said Rosenbluth. “I’ll say they have a good asylum case, and it could be three or four months or longer before I can get them out. They usually say ‘no way, get me out of here,’ because the conditions and isolation are hard to bear.”
Torstveit Ngara added, “The faster things go, the less attention people are paying attention to the need for translators and due process. They usually take the cases represented by attorneys first, so there’s no one there to see how people are being treated.”
Rosenbluth and Antonini agreed that the politicization of immigration is the crux of the issue. On the precipice of the 2020 presidential election, immigration at the southern border has been a hotly debated issue. Rosenbluth pointed out that though xenophobic rhetoric was not as prevalent under President Barack Obama, he deported more people than every president in the 20th century combined.
The panel also provided students with an introduction to the Immigration Clinic, which will open in January 2020. Law students in the clinic will represent clients in Georgia with asylum cases. The clinic will take 12 law students who will work in pairs to conduct research, write briefs, file affidavits and argue cases in court.
Antonini encouraged students to take the clinic and find an area of the law that they love.
“I know the immigrant story,” said Antonini. “I live the immigrant story. I understand what we bring to the country and the importance of being accepted in the land that I love.”