Opinion | Why we need to offer the displaced legal assistance

The University of Iowa providing legal services to the displaced is a big step toward promoting human rights.


Johnny Jarnagin

The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights office is seen in the Jefferson Building in Iowa City on Oct. 14, 2022

Kyle Tristan Ortega, Opinions Contributor

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

Over a year ago, Iowa received hundreds of Afghan immigrants who fled from their country after the Taliban took control of it. With nowhere else to go, resettling them is the humane thing to do.

However, resettlement is an arduous process with a plethora of legal caveats. So, the University of Iowa, along with the Drake Refugee Clinic and Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, established the Afghan Legal League of Iowa to protect Afghans’ rights to asylum.

The UI has the resources to assist Afghan refugees, and we should help at any capacity possible.

When the Refugee Act of 1980 was created, it allowed the U.S. to admit up to 50,000 refugees annually. Additionally, the president had the power to go over that number if necessary for humanitarian purposes.

But the process from applying to actually receiving asylum is difficult and complex, often involving multiple government agencies. The process can take years, even generations, to conclude. This leads to some consequential issues.

First, extended asylum case durations could violate one’s human right to basic necessities because asylum seekers will oftentimes be forced to remain in unfavorable conditions while they wait for their cases to be processed.

Second, one could be separated from their family for an extended period during the process, adding a psychological element to the suffering one is likely to experience while they wait.

But most importantly, extended cases make it difficult for asylum seekers to find and maintain pro bono counsel who can commit to the entire duration of their case.

Jovana Davidovic, UI department of philosophy associate professor, believes that legal assistance is important to one’s right to asylum, so the absence of it would be problematic.

“The reason I would say that legal support for refugees seeking asylum is important is because we want to actually give them justified full due process,” Davidovic said. “Getting asylum is a very serious process. The number one privilege you get if you get the status of refugee is the right to reside somewhere, but it is still a robust process to be able to practice that, so having legal representation assures that you actually have that right.”

We need to offer legal services to the displaced Afghan immigrants in Iowa. The duration of each case may vary, so it is important legal assistance is made accessible to them for however long they need. With that in mind, establishing the Iowa Afghan Legal League of Iowa is a step in the right direction.

ALL Iowa aims to represent Afghans in their immigration cases  while also providing legal training to law students who are interested in the field. This guarantees the Afghan immigrants will get the assistance they need, significantly increasing their chances of successfully resettling here in Iowa.

This will not only benefit the refugees but also the state. Refugees are vital to the economy, as they statistically have high employment rates that would fill needed jobs in Iowa.

The process of applying for and receiving asylum is time consuming, so we must offer legal services to the Afghan immigrants seeking it. As they have been forcefully displaced by dangerous conditions outside of their control, we have a humanitarian obligation to assist them as much as we can.