Reviews | Why we need to offer legal assistance to displaced people

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

Johnny Jarnagin

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


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


More than a year ago, Iowa welcomed hundreds of Afghan immigrants who fled their country after the Taliban took control. With nowhere to go, relocating them is the most humane thing to do.

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

IU has the resources to help the Afghan refugees, and we should help in every capacity possible.

When the Refugee Act of 1980 was created, it allowed the United States to admit up to 50,000 refugees a year. Additionally, the President had the authority to exceed this number if necessary for humanitarian purposes.

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

First, extending the duration of asylum claims could violate a person’s fundamental right to basic necessities, as asylum seekers will often be forced to stay in adverse conditions while waiting for their case to be processed.

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

More importantly, protracted cases make it difficult for asylum seekers to find and maintain a pro bono lawyer who can commit to the duration of their case.

Jovana Davidovic, an associate professor in the philosophy department at UI, believes that legal aid is important for asylum, so its absence would be problematic.

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

We need to provide legal services to displaced Afghan immigrants in Iowa. The length of each case can vary, so it is important that legal assistance is available to them for as long as they need it. In this spirit, the creation of the Iowa Afghan Legal League of Iowa is a step in the right direction.

ALL Iowa aims to represent Afghans in their immigration matters while providing legal education to law students interested in the field. This ensures that Afghan immigrants will receive the assistance they need, greatly increasing their chances of successful resettlement here in Iowa.

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

The process of seeking and obtaining asylum takes time, so we need to provide legal services to Afghan immigrants who apply. As they have been forcibly displaced by dangerous conditions beyond their control, we have a humanitarian obligation to help them as much as possible.

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