AILA Presents the Somali 92 Volunteer Team with the 2019 Arthur C. Helton Memorial Human Rights Award

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) will recognize the Somali 92 Volunteer Team with the 2019 Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award for outstanding service in advancing the cause of human rights this week during AILA's Annual Conference in Orlando, FL.

On December 7, 2017, ICE attempted to deport 92 men and women to Somalia. For two days, the men and women sat bound and shackled and reported truly horrifying conditions, including physical and verbal abuse by guards. After sitting on a runway in Senegal for 23 hours, the plane returned to the United States. ICE attempted to quickly deport the men and women again, before an investigation into their mistreatment could be made.

Several organizations immediately jumped in and filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Miami to stay their deportations, ensure access to medical care, and provide an opportunity to reopen their immigration cases. Simultaneously, attorneys and law students travelled to the Glades and Krome detention centers to meet with the men and women, and a call was sent out for pro bono volunteers to represent the Somali 92.

Responses came from around the country, from law school clinics to legal service organizations, and from solo immigration attorneys to multi-national law firms. Others shared their expertise as mentors or contributed technology to coordinate volunteers throughout the country. More than 12 law firms, seven legal service organizations, five law school clinics, and nine solo immigration practitioners contributed to this effort.

Because of the Somali 92 Team, the men and women on that December 2017 flight were able to access counsel to help them reopen their immigration cases. The team's dedication, mentoring, and sharing of experiences and resources demonstrate the power of collaboration to ensure access to justice.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 19062037.