Immigration lawyer Paul Saluja represents many immigrants in West Virginia who are trying to get their citizenship. But an increased need for pro-bono lawyers nationally has inspired him to spend a few months this fall volunteering out West. He’ll be representing families and children who traveled across the Mexican border.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting spoke with Saluja about immigration across the country and here in the Mountain State.
PAUL SALUJA: In the United States, you're only guaranteed the right to counsel, to have one appointed for you in a criminal matter, if you could be incarcerated. However, immigrants do not have a right to a court appointed attorney. And they're of limited means. They don't have jobs right now. And they need representation. The way I look at it is, when I flew into Tucson airport, I looked out the window, and all I saw was barren, desert land. And for someone to travel in those conditions, they have to be fleeing from something serious, to be willing to risk their own life, the life of their children in these hot, dry, arid conditions, just to get a chance at life.
ROXY TODD: So last time we talked, you said you felt confident that West Virginians welcome immigrants. Do you still feel that today?
PAUL SALUJA: It appears that they do. The ones that I've encountered seem to support the immigration. Everyone wants the immigrant to be independent, financially independent. But to have them relocate to West Virginia. I don't see anyone resisting it at this time.
ROXY TODD: And in the past couple of years, from the clients you've spoken to, have there been people that are facing deportation here in West Virginia? What are people who are undocumented feeling and thinking right now; people that are living in West Virginia, but looking at what's going on, on the border out west? Are people afraid?
PAUL SALUJA: Absolutely, they're afraid. The problem is, it appears the current administration doesn't have a name immigration policy. They tend to bounce around and just make threats as opposed to having a policy of how they want to resolve the issue. And as a result, those that do qualify for some type of relief, a lot of times are unwilling to seek it, because they're scared of what the administration may do. And by that, I mean, say for example, there's an immigrant that is married to a United States citizen, has a couple of United States citizen children, could easily apply for a visa, and then the process could move forward. They're scared to even start the process, because they're not sure if they're going to get picked up. Because on all the forums, you're required to disclose your address, your phone number. And the reason is that way they can locate them. So everyone is becoming more and more reluctant to move forward. So instead of helping the issue, it's actually causing the migrants to hide in the shadows.