"Why don't immigrants just come the legal way?"

That's one of many questions Americans ask when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration. To find out for myself, I've been visiting the federal courthouse in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, which oversees immigration cases. When I was there last week, I met Matt Benson, an immigration attorney from Cincinnati, Ohio, who represents immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from around the globe. Benson says that the path to legal residency isn't as easy as many Americans imagine — and under President Donald Trump, it's become even harder.

Lawyer says it can be 'very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain legal status'

"I represent a wide range of individuals, including a lot of women and children asylum seekers from Central America. Many come not for just economic reasons, but as a result of fleeing gang violence, domestic violence and on some occasions even politically motivated violence," Benson says. "I also represent a lot of asylum seekers from African countries who fear politically motivated violence and persecution based on their race or religion."

Benson says his clients, even the ones who came to the U.S. illegally, want "nothing more than to become permanent residents, and one day, U.S. citizens."

The vast majority of my clients are really good people, who not only want a better life for themselves and their families but also oftentimes flee violence and danger in their home countries.

They work hard and for the most part, most of them abide by our laws here," Benson says. " Unfortunately, for those who enter the country unlawfully, it can be very difficult if not impossible to obtain legal status. I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that it's easy for someone, here unlawfully, to get legal. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Many of Benson's clients request Relief from Removal, which allows undocumented immigrants and people who overstayed visas relief from deportation if they meet certain requirements: they've been here at least 10 years, show good moral character, and have no serious criminal convictions.

Benson says many of these requests are denied under the Trump administration.

"The biggest change is that ICE no longer exercises any discretion in terms of the individuals the target for enforcement or prosecute in removal proceedings," Benson says. "Under Obama, ICE used its limited resources on removing illegal immigrants with serious criminal records or a history of egregious immigration violations--like multiple, recent unlawful entries, or fraud.

Now essentially everyone ICE encounters who is undocumented is put in proceedings."

The Trump WH has made it much tougher for asylum seekers

"Through former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration has made it much tougher on those seeking asylum from Central America," Benson says. "They did this by issuing a series of decisions in which the Attorney General referred to himself. This was a practice that prior to Trump was used very rarely by Attorneys General."

The crackdown has resulted in undocumented immigrants with no criminal records, many of whom have been here their whole lives, being apprehended by ICE and slated for possible deportation.

"I currently represent a woman who is three months pregnant and detained by ICE," Benson says.

"She is a 35-year-old citizen of Mexico but was brought to the U.S. when she was only 16 months old. She attended school here and is completely Americanized. She also has no criminal convictions, only one pending misdemeanor criminal charge. That was enough for an immigration judge to deny bond."

Depending on the outcome of her pending misdemeanor case, this woman--and her unborn child--could be deported to Mexico, a country they have never called home.

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