June 04, 2019

ABA President Calls for Lawyer Volunteers at Border Projects

I think lawyers who engage in pro bono service to protect those who cannot help themselves are truly the heroes and the heroines of the legal profession.

Janet Reno

A recent grant from the American Bar Endowment will enable the ABA Commission on Immigration to lead monthly, weeklong volunteer trips to each of its two legal services projects on the southern border. 

In April, May, June, and July, September, and October, volunteers will work at the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (“ProBAR”) in Harlingen, Texas.  In August and December, volunteers will travel to San Diego, California, to work with the Immigration Justice Project (“IJP”).  Volunteers on these trips will get direct experience on the frontlines witnessing the immigration detention and removal systems and hearing directly from asylum-seekers and others on why they undergo dangerous travel to the United States seeking protection.

“Last summer, I joined with other ABA volunteers on the border in Texas,” ABA President Bob Carlson told the ABA Journal. “We spent several days working pro bono with detained people who were seeking asylum. It was an emotional experience. I can tell you firsthand that there are a lot of people there—men, women, children, families—who are escaping life-threatening violence at home and who desperately need legal counsel. Most unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers do not have lawyers to help them, and that often makes the difference between being able to stay in the U.S. and being deported.”

ABA President Bob Carlson and Jaime Hawk, legal strategy director of ACLU Washington in Seattle, working at ProBAR.

ABA President Bob Carlson and Jaime Hawk, legal strategy director of ACLU Washington in Seattle, working at ProBAR.

ProBAR serves detained adults and unaccompanied children in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, the busiest entry-point for Central American asylum-seekers along the Southwest border. In 2018, ProBAR served more than 18,000 immigrants and asylum-seekers, including hundreds of parents and children impacted by the Administration’s family separation policy. 

IJP serves adult detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, one of the largest immigration detention facilities in the country.  The San Diego sector has been on the frontlines of recent policy changes, such as the “Return to Mexico” policy, which forces many asylum seekers who present themselves at the nearby San Ysidro point of entry to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are pending.

While at ProBAR and IJP, volunteers will meet with immigrants and asylum-seekers at local detention facilities and provide legal advice and assistance with applications for relief.  Volunteers may also prepare individuals for initial screening interviews with asylum officers and provide representation in bond hearings and credible fear interviews.

During their trip to ProBAR in August 2018, Carlson and ABA president-elect Judy Perry Martinez joined an ABA delegation of volunteers to help detained asylum seekers with their cases. They assisted one 21-year-old man from Honduras who was fleeing an attempt on his life after his step-father, who was affiliated with the gangs, murdered his mother by shooting her in the head. The young man was granted protection under the Convention Against Torture with assistance from ABA volunteers and ProBAR.

“Witnessing firsthand the challenges to securing due process for those charged with entering our county illegally, and sitting face to face with asylum seekers and hearing their stories of why they fled their country and seek life in America, only strengthened our resolve for the ABA and the greater legal profession to do all we can to ensure justice is delivered.” 

Please consider joining an ABA border trip. The dates for the trips to ProBAR in Texas are:

  • April 29 - May 3
  • May 20 - 24
  • June 10 - 14
  • July 15 - 19
  • September 23 - 27
  • October 28 - November 1

The trips to IJP in California are

  • August 19 - 23
  • December 2 - 6

If you are interested in participating, email Jennie Kneedler (jennie.kneedler@americanbar.org), Commission Staff Attorney, and copy Nicole Gasmen (nicole.gasmen@americanbar.org), Commission Program Assistant.  Please include your full name and state bar number.  Attorneys licensed and in good standing in any state are invited to participate.  No prior immigration experience is required, and training will be provided both before and during the volunteer trip. Volunteers will be responsible for their own travel arrangements and expenses. Some limited funding is available to reimburse volunteers for travel-related expenses. Malpractice insurance will be provided.  Preference will be given to Spanish-speakers, but the opportunity is open to all who would like to be a hero or heroine by engaging in pro bono services.

For more information, visit the ABA Commission on Immigration's Pro Bono Opportunities page.