Due to the humanitarian crisis at our Southwestern border, various advocacy organizations are seeking assistance for the thousands of children who have crossed our borders seeking protection, safety, and family who already reside in the United States.

From October 2013 to July 2014, 57,000 children have been processed by US Customs and Border Protection at the Southwestern border alone. These children will eventually face removal proceedings, but many of them are eligible for some form of protection under US law, including asylum, special immigrant juvenile visas, U-visas, or T-visas. Due to the language barriers and complexity of immigration law, these children will face extreme hardship in proving their case on their own.

Volunteers are needed to assist these children in navigating the US legal system. Organizations such as ProBar, based in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, work with these children to provide services such as legal screenings to teach them their rights. They also work with other organizations to pair the children with pro bono attorneys to represent them in removal proceedings, which generally occur once the children leave the Rio Grande Valley and are reunited with their families. MSJDN reached out to ProBar, who suggested that any attorneys who are interested in providing pro bono representation to these children should reach out to organizations in our areas to be linked up with children who may be sent there after processing out of the border areas. There are also other opportunities to help, including donations and providing other counseling services to the children.

MSJDN member Catherine Rosato Reilly has volunteered as a pro bono representative by taking cases both through Kids in Need of Defense (“KIND”) and Catholic Charities.  Catherine, who practices in Washington, DC, was able to volunteer as a pro bono opportunity through her firm.  In describing her experience, Catherine noted several things that may be of interest to any MSJDNers looking to get involved:

  • You do not need to be licensed in the state where the child is located or where any hearings might take place (you just need to be licensed somewhere).
  • For her case with KIND, Catherine estimates she and a colleague dedicated about 20 hours to working on the case.  The case involved appearing at two administrative hearings, representing a teenage girl from Honduras. She did point out, however, that this case never proceeded to a merits hearing because the prosecutor agreed to administratively close the case.  If the case had continued, the time commitment would have been greater. (Her case with Catholic Charities is ongoing).
  • Often if there is no case for asylum, advocates can sometimes achieve a “no status” determination for their clients, which prevents them from being deported and allows them to remain with their families.
  • Catherine did have resources available through her firm to hire interpreters and expert witnesses and to appear at the hearings, something she noted might be difficult for someone taking one of these cases on their own.  However, Catherine also mentioned that while she was not employed and her husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton, she was able to take an asylum case representing a Somali woman through Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego.  Casa Cornelia assisted Catherine in finding interpreters and medical experts to provide their services pro bono.  Casa Cornelia provides a free CLE and its staff attorneys are very active in supervising attorney volunteers.

Catherine recommends that anyone wishing to get involved reach out to KIND, Catholic Charities, or Casa Cornelia. We have listed contact information for these and other organizations below.