Lawyers Make all the Difference in Immigration Court: Santiago’s Story

In Detroit’s Immigration Court, approximately 80% of all cases do not have representation. Unlike a criminal court, attorneys are not appointed for those who cannot afford them. Asylum seekers are often fleeing extremely dangerous conditions, the majority cannot provide for their own representation.

And yet, having a qualified and experienced advocate to stand with a client in court can make all the difference. Santiago’s story is a great example of the difference an attorney can make.

Santiago from Venezuela

Santiago was an obvious target in his home country of Venezuela. He worked for a government oil company where he was required to participate in pro-government rallies. However, Santiago’s mother was a leader of the opposition, and Santiago himself was a member of the opposition party. He refused to attend the pro-government rallies, in favor of the anti-government demonstrations. Since he publicly denounced the government, the police detained him. While in custody, he was brutally beaten.

Scared for his life, Santiago booked a trip to the United States where he and some friends got visitor’s visas and jobs. However, you cannot legally work on a visitor’s visa, and Santiago and his friends were caught by border patrol near Port Huron. They were detained and set to be deported.

While waiting for deportation, Santiago applied for asylum. During his hearing, border patrol claimed that they took his statement when they detained him. According to that statement, Santiago admitted that he wasn’t afraid to go back to Venezuela and that he was just here to make money.

In court, we challenged this testimony. The border patrol agents who arrested him spoke only English, Santiago speaks only Spanish. No interpreters were present at the time the statement was taken.

Santiago was a target in Venezuela of uniformed police. He has a valid asylum claim, and the Border Patrol could not show that he fully understood whatever statement he may have agreed to when he was detained. Because our attorney was there to challenge the evidence, the judge threw out the testimony, and Santiago was granted asylum.

Santiago is now working as a truck driver and rebuilding his life in the United States.

We are also representing several others from Venezuela, some of whom were detained along with Santiago. Their cases continue.

Please Help Us

Our ability to represent people like Santiago in Immigration Court depends upon the donations we receive from our community. Please consider making a donation so that we can bring quality legal representation to more of those who need it most.


The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved communities in the Detroit area, with a focus on recent immigrants and refugees.

We were founded in 2014 by Kevin Piecuch, our Executive Director and principal attorney, to help meet the great need for quality legal services in underserved communities. We believe that everyone deserves justice regardless of your country of origin, the color of your skin, or your ability to afford an attorney.

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