When given the chance to help people seeking asylum in the United States at the border in Laredo, Texas, lawyer Brian Selden did not hesitate.
“This is a nation of opportunity,” the Los Altos resident said. “I believe in making sure that people have full access to their rights, and I simply want to help them. This trip was an opportunity to do exactly that.”
As part of a group of 10 lawyers from the Jones Day law firm, Selden assisted women who had experienced gender- or gang-related persecution from their countries of origin. Their job during the one-week visit in December was to explain the asylum process and provide help throughout their journey.
Working pro bono, Selden said he aided women staying in a temporary detention center. The women came from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Selden, another litigator and a translator met with approximately 12 migrants per day, listening to their plights. Few of them had access to legal representation and services, according to Selden, who assessed their situation and provided them with legal support.
“The stories of some women inside the facility really surprised me,” he said. “Almost all of the women I talked to had to cross the border with a coyote, who are smugglers that help migrants get across the border.”
One woman and her sister were fleeing Honduras after a gang had threatened their family and their local business, Selden said. Their parents put together enough money to send them out of Honduras – away from the gang.
“Many people may not know that the stories of immigrants traveling to the border often involve kidnapping, robbery and violence along the way,” he said. “Most of the women are at the mercy of coyotes, which makes it extremely dangerous.”
The trip to Texas has had a lasting impact on Selden, who intends to return this year.
“This trip was a reminder of how fortunate my family and I are to have been born in the United States, and it is a reminder to make sure that we should all try to do what we can to assist others,” he said. “Meeting these immigrants was a rewarding and compelling experience because there are many people who have given up a lot and have shown real heroism in the midst of danger and fear.”