By Allie Gross and Emily Mieure
Jackson Hole’s only two practicing immigration attorneys can’t accept any new cases.
For the first time since opening its doors in 2006, Trefonas Law, PC notified the community Feb. 20 that it can’t handle more cases, except for emergencies. Attorney Elisabeth Trefonas attributes the surge in demand for immigration legal help to a mounting fear and anxiety among the local immigrant population.
“A fear that the applications are going to be changed, a fear that doors are going to be closed,” Trefonas said. “People are getting married this week. There’s a sense of urgency on it. It started with the election, but it has not slowed down.”
As Trefonas Law has become increasingly overburdened with cases, other local organizations and nonprofits are stepping up to provide Jackson’s immigrant population with resources in a difficult, highly specialized area of the law.
Teton County has plenty of lawyers, but not just any attorney can handle immigration cases, and pretty much only Trefonas and Read do. The field is highly specialized and constantly evolving.
“It’s such a convoluted system,” Trefonas said. “It’s not a logical system, and it doesn’t make much sense.”
Also, immigration cases are considered administrative, rather than criminal, which means there’s no Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
“If you have resources, you can buy time,” Trefonas said. “If you don’t have resources, you can’t pay bonds and you can’t pay lawyers. There’s very little pro bono help for a deportation case.”
Several nonprofit groups such as Teton County Access to Justice, Jackson Hole United and Immigrant Hope are working to help the community cope with the increasing demand for immigration legal help. See the March 14 Jackson Hole News&Guide for an in-depth story.