In honor of National Pro Bono Week, Centro Legal’s Immigrants’ Rights Team extends a hearty and enthusiastic thank you to the law firms, attorneys, and staff who have extended your legal expertise to represent Centro Legal clients. Our work this year has been marked by unprecedented challenges: The Trump administration accelerated its assault on asylum policy with new regulations and caselaw that restricted our clients’ access to safety and stability on a near-weekly basis; in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision allowing DACA to live on, USCIS increased restrictions on its implementation; and, of course, since May, Centro Legal has transitioned to a fully remote practice. The backlogs in the Immigration Court and at the Asylum Office have caused our caseloads to grow, along with our clients’ anxieties.
In the face of this adversity, we are incredibly grateful to our pro bono partners for the time you have dedicated to asylum seekers and other migrants. Your hard work allows Centro Legal to radically expand our capacity to serve our community, and your skills and resources grant our clients access to high quality legal representation that is out of reach for so many.
Below are a few highlights in celebration of National Pro Bono Week:
Recent Pro Bono Victories
- Attorneys from Kazan, McClain, Slatterley, & Greenwood assisted an asylee to file an I-730 petition, seeking asylum status for his spouse, back in 2015. After years of delay by USCIS, the parties were scheduled for an interview in Iowa, where they had relocated. Centro Legal identified a local pro bono attorney who accompanied the clients to their interview, after thorough preparation by the Kazan team. Within a few days, the clients received an asylum approval notice!
- Attorneys from Cooley LLP prepared a legal argument and country conditions evidence packet for one of Centro’s unaccompanied minor clients, whose case has been pending for years. This young man fled his country after suffering persecution based on his Indigenous ethnicity, religion, and imputed sexual orientation. Once the case was fully prepped, Centro asked the Asylum Office to schedule a short-notice asylum interview. The interview was held on October 13, and on October 23, we learned that our client was granted asylum!
- We are very grateful to summer associates from Morrison & Foerster and Hanson Bridgett, as well as the attorneys who supervised them, who took on research and writing projects to support our unaccompanied minor asylum-seeking clients. Their work will support our efforts to advance these cases and achieve justice for our young clients.
- Shortly before the pandemic shut down the courts, a legal team from Morrison & Foerster won asylum for a Mexican woman who fled with her daughter after cartel members threatened to kill anyone with the child’s surname. The MoFo attorneys picked up this case only a few months before the hearing, and in that time, they prepared expert testimony and all required evidence, and skillfully advocated at the asylum hearing.
- Cooley attorneys won asylum for a young man who fled El Salvador after, at age 11, he witnessed a gang murder and subsequently was terrorized with death threats by the gang. This team made creative legal arguments to overcome recent negative caselaw and persuade the immigration judge to grant asylum based on a cognizable particular social group involving witnesses of gang crimes.
- Attorneys Donald Tine and Cliff Weingus dropped everything to prepare an emergency petition for Humanitarian Parole when their client’s children were forced to flee an abusive home in Mexico. Despite this thorough Humanitarian Parole application, the support of five U.S. senators and representatives, the children’s young ages, and the client’s tragic and compelling story, Border Patrol officials refused to grant them entry or even a credible fear interview, citing the Trump Administration’s cruel and unlawful closure of the southern border under Title 42. Our client has not given up hope that she will be able to bring her children to safety in the U.S. under a new administration, while she waits for her asylum claim to be heard.
Pro Bono Clinics and New Partnerships
- We are proud that we have held 8 virtual clinics since the pandemic forced us to work remotely starting in March. These clinics were sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis, Morrison & Foerster and McKesson, DLA Piper, and Farella and Dropbox, and they have enabled 48 clients to apply for renewed DACA status, lawful permanent residency, asylum, or asylum-seeker work permits. Our pro bono clinic clients have expressed their gratitude and enthusiasm for your advocacy:
- Carlos P., who attended a DACA renewal clinic: “I’m very grateful for the help I was given. I lost my job during COVID and thanks to your help with renewing my DACA, I was able to have a valid social and qualify for unemployment aid. I was also able to renew my driver’s license and can apply for jobs without worry.”
- Delmy B., who attended a pro se asylum clinic and later was granted asylum: “I am very thankful for everyone’s time and the effort those [pro bono] attorneys showed in my case. Everything is going well, we are applying for Legal Permanent Residency now. We are so thankful for their help because they were such great support and very effective.”
- Kency W., who attended a pro se asylum clinic and later was granted asylum: “My son and I are doing well. We feel well and I feel safe because in my home country, I was not safe at all. I have no fear of anything here and I feel safe and secure as a woman here.”
- Luz C., who attended an Asylee Adjustment of Status clinic: “I am very grateful for all of your help in filling out the application. Thanks to the pro bono attorneys, I have been able to obtain benefits and continue working. Also, I will be able to apply for citizenship!”
- This year we began a new partnership with the enthusiastic attorneys of Shartsis Friese, who are representing our minor clients in their state court guardianship petitions. State court representation is the critical first step in applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which is available to children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. The Shartsis Friese attorneys’ work has greatly expanded our capacity to ensure our young clients are able to avail themselves of the opportunity to SIJS status.
We aim to schedule additional clinics before the end of 2020, to serve the need of asylees eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status, DACA recipients, and unrepresented asylum seekers in removal proceedings. We have conducted screenings with clients who are in need of pro bono representation, including a Nicaraguan citizen fleeing political persecution and a Salvadoran woman whose brother was murdered in front of her. We are developing more opportunities for limited-service pro bono projects. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating on any of these ventures!
Of course, we continue to offer mentorship, support, and training materials to pro bono attorneys. In addition to one-on-one support, we circulate alerts when significant legal decisions or policies occur, and we recently held our first brown bag Zoom session to update pro bono attorneys on recent legal developments.
The future of asylum law will be dramatically impacted by the results of the upcoming election. Whatever the outcome, we are grateful to have your support as we prepare to fight harder than ever to protect asylum seekers and promote the rights of immigrants.
If you’d like to support our efforts, please click below. We are grateful for your consideration!
In solidarity and with gratitude,
Immigrants’ Rights Pro Bono Team
Building Bridges to Empower Immigrants