The Asylum Program of Arizona (APA) helps immigrants fleeing torture and other forms of persecution get legal representation for their immigration cases if they cannot afford an attorney.
We aim to serve as a safety net for immigrant protection seekers in Arizona who have no other option for securing legal representation in their cases for asylum or relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT).
What We Do
APA raises funds and recruits private immigration attorneys to provide free (pro bono) or low-cost representation for asylum and CAT. When pro bono representation is not an option, APA negotiates a reduced fee with the private attorney and shares the costs with the client. If the client has no source of funds, APA pays all fees.
Funds to pay case-related expenses are raised through donations from individuals, law firms, religious organizations, and community groups. Because APA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, contributions to support our work are tax-deductible.
APA brings together the expertise, experience, and community resources necessary to ensure protection seekers have the best possible opportunity to present their cases. In addition to coordinating with private attorneys, we network with other nonprofit organizations to provide a collaborative, community response to the urgent legal assistance needs of asylum seekers and torture survivors.
Attorneys on APA’s board of directors provide free support services including case-assessment interviews and referral work. If special, interim help is needed, such as a time-sensitive, discrete filing, they are sometimes able to provide that as well. We also involve community volunteers when the attorney accepting a case needs translation services or other help.
Why are APA’s services needed?
Without legal representation, asylum seekers have little chance of being granted and risk being deported to face persecution and possibly death. A non-partisan study found that 90 percent of those who are without legal representation in Immigration Court are denied, whereas a person’s chances of being granted asylum are five times higher with an attorney.
The asylum process is too complicated and adversarial to undertake without an experienced immigration attorney, especially for protection seekers who do not speak English, are coping with post-traumatic stress from the violence they’ve endured, and are struggling to survive in a foreign land without employment or social support. And, with new legal interpretations greatly restricting access to asylum, many cases can be won only on appeal, which requires carefully crafted, sophisticated written arguments.
Who Do We Serve?
Although our services are open to protection seekers from anywhere in the world, those we have served thus far are from Mexico and 12 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.
Since 2016,1 sixty-five percent have been women, most of whom fled with their minor children.
Who Qualifies for Asylum?
In recent years, government directives have dramatically restricted the grounds on which protection seekers may qualify for asylum and made it harder to apply. Thus, access to legal assistance is even more necessary.
Immigrants who have been persecuted in their home countries or who can prove a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion may qualify for asylum. With few exceptions, asylum seekers are required to apply within one year of entering the U.S. The spouse and minor children accompanying the applicant will typically also qualify for protection.
Who Qualifies for CAT?
To qualify for protection under the Convention Against Torture, the applicant must show that it is more likely than not that she or he will be tortured if deported. The applicant must also show that the harm he or she fears meets the definition of torture under CAT, which requires severe harm or suffering. The definition also requires that the torture would be inflicted by the government of the country the person is fleeing, or that the government would turn a blind eye to it.
While CAT can protect a person who is unable to show that he or she will be persecuted due to one of the grounds required for asylum, the protection is only for the applicant and not for his or her spouse or children.
Above: Men and women of Manzo Area Council – (l-r) Barclay Goldsmith, Fr. Ricardo Elford, Raquel Rubio Goldsmith, Frank De La Cruz, Margarita Bernal, Ramona Grijalva, Isabel Garcia, Caroline Dobler, Arthur Curley, Hector Ramirez (representing his mother, Margarita Jauregui Atkins), Cathy Gamez, Margo Cowan, Rev. Ken Kennon, Jody Sullivan, Jon Miles; Front row, l-r: Teresa Bernal, Carmen Garcia, Guadalupe Castillo, Connie Curley. Not shown: Margarita Juarequi Atkins, Barbara Cerepanya, Raúl Grijalva, Sr. Julie Marciacq, Su Rollins. (2009 Photo by Jose Luis Leon.)
APA, established in 2020 as a separate nonprofit organization, continues a 40-year legacy by southern Arizona human rights and justice advocates to provide legal assistance for immigrant protection seekers.
We trace our history through a succession of organizations beginning in the 1970s with the Manzo Area Council, followed by the Tucson Ecumenical Council Legal Assistance (TECLA) from 1985 to 1999.
The Asylum Program of Southern Arizona was established in 2000 to take over TECLA’s work. From that time until our incorporation in 2020, we operated under a succession of names — Asylum Program of Arizona, Immigrant Survivors Legal Assistance, and Asylum Services Committee – alternately under the banners of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona.
Above: Guatemalan clients of Tucson Ecumenical Council Legal Assistance (TECLA).
Several of our board members have participated in these efforts since the 1980s, acquiring the skills and community resources necessary to continue this vital tradition of asylum representation.
Above and below: Photos from APA’s 2009 “Spirit of Justice” celebration of more than 30 years of asylum representation in Tucson. Upper left: APA board member Andy Silverman; upper right: Former Manzo attorney Margo Cowan, APA President Lynn Marcus, and Hector Ramirez.
Affiliations for identification only
Lynn Marcus, President
Director, Community Immigration Law Placement Clinic, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law of
Keith Schaeffer, Vice President & Treasurer
Valerie Hink, Co-Secretary
Immigration Attorney, Southern Arizona Legal Aid (retired)
Erika Kreider, Co-Secretary.
Immigration Attorney, Private Practice (retired)
Chief Information Officer, Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two (retired)
Managing Attorney, Director of Intake, Southern Arizona Legal Aid
Owner, Photographer, Guide at Southwest Photo Safari, Llc.,
General Manager, Phoenix Opera
Joseph M. Livermore Professor Emeritus of Law; Director, Civil Rights Restoration Clinic, U of A James E. Rogers College of Law