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Local law team helping asylum seekers: "They're human beings that need assistance"

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A team of local lawyers and Notre Dame Law students are spending the holidays giving back to those seeking asylum at the border.

Local immigration attorneys Rudy and Cecilia Monterrosa helped assemble the team that traveled to the border on Christmas Day. The group includes Notre Dame Law School students Lauren Andrink, Gino Ibanez, Rolando Rengifo and local case manager Jesusa Rivera.

They’re providing free legal aid to women and children who they say are in desperate need of protection right now.

The team arrived in Dilley, Texas on Tuesday, where they will be helping asylum seekers being held at the South Texas Family Residential Center.

These people are fleeing from countries like Guatemala and Honduras where they’re facing systemic and violent political repression.

This all comes at a time when issues of immigration are at the heat of political discussion with the government currently shut down over President Trump’s push for a border wall.

Cecilia Monterossa, an immigration lawyer based out of South Bend, says what people should know about these asylum seekers is how hard the process of being let into the United States can be and conditions in which asylum seekers are detained at the border.

“We can’t keep thinking of it as a political issue,” Monterossa said. “We need to remember that these individuals are human beings that are struggling; they’re human beings that need assistance. We have, the United States has an asylum process in place so when people are concerned about letting just anybody into the United States, that’s not the case at all and that’s exactly why we’re here because the United States does not just let anybody.”

Asylum seekers are trying to escape from danger and persecution in their respective countries in most cases and there’s a lot of legal paperwork to be done.

After that application process, they’re required to go through asylum interviews and critical fear interviews which the team is working to help with.

It can be months between an application and a decision for those at the border.

Everyone on the team is working at the border strictly on a volunteer basis but they all said they see it as a way of giving back.

“I come from a family of immigrants, we’re from Colombia, and when we first drove here we were helped by a lot of people, professionals in the community, and family members that were already established here," Gino Ibanez said, a Notre Dame Law student helping to provide assistance. "I like to be able to give back to the community the same way they helped me.”

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