A Pro Bono Initiative to Help Children
Two years ago the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) launched the new National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children (Center), a program of USCRI. During its inaugural two years, the Center has consistently provided high quality pro bono services to unaccompanied children released from detention in the United States. With AILA's support, the Center has achieved significant successes, including the following:
- Receiving referrals for over 1,800 children;
- Providing brief services to over 1,600 children from 28 countries;
- Matching more than 545 children living in 31 states and the District of Columbia with pro bono counsel;
- Training over 1,000 attorneys nationally;
- Recruiting over 100 expert immigration practitioners to serve as mentors; and
- Launching an online resource library with the help of pro bono attorneys and other service providers that makes over 200 documents available.
Alone and without resources, these children are unable to hire attorneys to represent them as they go through the legal system. Many have experienced such horrors as trafficking, persecution, or domestic violence. Without an attorney's assistance, these children are often denied legal protection or the right to stay in the country. All too often, they simply fall through the cracks or end up on the streets.
The Center is funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees through a generous grant from actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie. The Center's launch was celebrated at a March 8, 2005 gala in Washington, DC that was televised to more than 20 cities nationwide and covered in over 127 publications worldwide. Speaking at the event, UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie noted, "I can't believe that any of us would expect that it's reasonable to send a child to face this [an immigration hearing] by themselves. I actually think it's cruel."
What We Do
AILA is the national association of over 10,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. As co-founder of the Center, AILA continues to work to recruit, train, and mentor volunteer attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to children. Trainings include sessions on legal procedure, substantive forms of relief, tips on interviewing children, and valuable information about social services. Upon completing a training session, each pro bono counsel receives reference materials that will continue to assist and guide the attorney as he or she proceeds with case preparation.
To further assist attorneys representing child clients, AILA members serve as mentors who will be available to answer questions and provide tactical guidance as the case is prepared. Attorneys will find a seasoned immigration advocate's wealth of knowledge and practical experience to be exceptionally helpful to case preparation.
Volunteer attorneys are offered an opportunity to make a difference at a critical juncture in a child's life, while also developing client advocacy, litigation, research and writing skills. Many attorneys who have provided pro bono assistance to refugee or immigrant children have found the experience to be immensely rewarding. As noted by UN Goodwill Ambassador and Actress Angelina Jolie, "I guarantee you, if you take on these cases, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life."
How to Take Action
The Center seeks attorneys of all levels of experience, skill, and background to represent children or to mentor other attorneys. Most of the children are in legal proceedings before the U.S. Department of Justice's Immigration Courts and/or state juvenile courts. Many are seeking asylum or protection from abuse, neglect, trafficking, or other serious crimes. Some children will return to their home country and require guidance obtaining services in their country. Pro bono counsel will assist these children by coordinating their departure and return. To volunteer or to learn about upcoming training sessions, please visit the Center's website. You may also contact Adriana Ysern at USCRI or Susan Timmons at AILA.