The Perspectives’ September feature highlighted how volunteer lawyers are helping migrants seeking asylum. The ABA’s Commission on Immigration also empowers immigrants and asylum seekers through its two direct service projects on the southern border and a legal resource center located in Houston. All three projects are led by dynamic and inspiring women who have devoted their careers to advocating for the migrant community.
This month, the Commission’s South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) is celebrating 30 years of representing and empowering adult migrants and unaccompanied children detained in the Rio Grande Valley with the legal knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their immigration cases. Most of ProBAR’s nearly 200 staff members work with unaccompanied children residing in shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. ProBAR also recently expanded its services to include representation of asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico for the duration of their cases. These individuals will have their cases heard not in a regular immigration court, but in a tent court connected to the International Bridge between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico. These asylum seekers represent some of the more than 50,000 individuals who have been returned to Mexico to wait for their court dates under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Director Kimi Jackson has led ProBAR through five years of rapid expansion, as the need for ProBAR’s services continues to grow. Ms. Jackson’s leadership team includes Director of Programs Brenda I. Piñero Carrasquillo and Legal Director Carly Salazar, both of whom are women.
Last year, the Commission’s Immigration Justice Project (IJP) marked 10 years of promoting access to justice for indigent immigrants and asylum seekers. In addition to providing pro bono representation to indigent immigrants appearing before immigration courts and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, IJP serves as appointed counsel for detained individuals who are determined to be mentally incompetent. Every year, IJP’s Legal Orientation Program also works with several thousand adults in immigration custody who cannot secure counsel and arms them with tools to represent themselves before the immigration court. IJP Director Adela Mason was one of 20 Latinos in the country recently honored by NBCNews.com and NBC Latino for her commitment, drive, and passion to help make our communities and our nation better.
The Commission’s newest project, the Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA), opened in 2015 in response to the large numbers of children from Central America who were coming to the United States fleeing violence and abuse in their home countries. CILA empowers lawyers with the tools they need to represent unaccompanied migrant children in humanitarian applications, including asylum. Dalia Castillo-Granados, CILA’s director, previously served as the chair of the State Bar of Texas’s Immigration Law Task Force and is currently an executive committee member of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative. As part of its effort to encourage more attorneys to represent children pro bono, CILA recently launched Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation (http://www.cilacademy.org/pro-bono). The website enables attorneys to search and share available pro bono cases for unaccompanied children.
Do you want to help? Go to CILA’s Pro Bono Matters website, sign up to volunteer with the Commission, or e-mail Commission Staff Attorney Jennie Kneedler to learn about potential opportunities.