chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
August 08, 2021

CILA’s Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation – Take a Case, Make a Difference

By Yasmin Yavar, Senior Staff Attorney at the Children's Immigration Law Academy

The work of a pro bono coordinator is many things. It requires optimism and persistence, bold asks, bridge-building, thoughtful guidance, great attention to detail, and perhaps hardest of all, letting go. I currently work as a Senior Staff Attorney at CILA, the Children’s Immigration Law Academy in Houston, Texas. Previously, I spent two years as a pro bono coordinator at the Houston office of Kids in Need of Defense, and another two years recruiting and assisting pro bono attorneys in Houston working on children’s cases for ProBAR. I found the work to be inspiring, challenging, and often, life-changing for all involved.

Because I understand the challenges and importance of working as a pro bono coordinator, I was eager to help develop CILA’s Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation platform. The platform is a smart, simple tool that matches pro bono opportunities with interested volunteers through a centralized portal and, in doing so, makes a pro bono coordinator’s critical job just a bit easier.

Interested volunteers view case cards like the two below, and click on the card to connect with a legal services organization that has an available pro bono opportunity:

Sample case cards from Pro Bono Matters Platform

Sample case cards from Pro Bono Matters Platform

Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation presents pro bono cases to volunteer attorneys nationwide. Currently, 16 legal services organizations in 9 states and the District of Columbia (Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.) post opportunities on the platform. But the span of the platform is much greater, as some organizations post opportunities on behalf of children they worked with while the children were detained, who have since been released and relocated to other states such as California, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

All of the posting organizations provide immigration legal services to children. The portal is a way for organizations to increase the visibility of their pro bono opportunities and connect with interested volunteers in a virtual setting. And it is a one-stop-shop for pro bono volunteers trying to find an opportunity that suits them, from their office or home computer. While some cases might require an experienced immigration attorney, most opportunities are available for new practitioners or practitioners new to immigration law.

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) of Westminster, Colorado joined the platform a year ago and has utilized it with success. Alyssa Telander, Children’s Program Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney at RMIAN, spoke of her organization’s experience with the platform. “The Pro Bono Matters Platform has helped attorneys across the country find RMIAN's Pro Bono Program. The volunteer attorneys who have come to our program through the Pro Bono Matters Platform are generally new to immigration law,” Alyssa said. “They are looking for opportunities to get involved in helping children with their immigration cases with high quality attorney mentorship. The platform has allowed our program to match more children with attorneys so that they do not have to navigate the U.S. immigration system alone.”

Organizations can add hashtags to their case cards such as #mentorship, to make clear that they will offer hands-on guidance for the volunteer, or #remote, to indicate when volunteers need not be where the child is located. Potential volunteers can review the case cards to find one that best meets their interests. Some case cards are general in nature, while others are specific to an individual, siblings, or family. Pro bono coordinators can indicate whether they need assistance with a discrete task – for example, filing an application or conducting research – or whether they are looking for a volunteer who will see a client’s case through to the end.

Though the total number of case cards is always in flux, there are currently 39 posted. With a quick click a volunteer can express interest, and the posting organization will receive their information and follow up. One of my favorite features of the platform is that it allows for continued communication with volunteers who may not be ready for a case just yet, or who do not see a case card that meets their criteria. Those volunteers can plug in search terms and provide their e-mail address, and they will be notified whenever a case that matches their search terms is posted.

Most case cards reflect opportunities to serve unaccompanied children (often abbreviated as “UC” or “UAC”) who may need assistance in their immigration proceedings, related state court proceedings, or both. Posting organizations can also seek out volunteers to work with children seeking protection from deportation as part of a family unit, or children never deemed “unaccompanied,” but who need representation.

As a former pro bono coordinator and forever pro bono attorney, I encourage attorneys to view the platform, scan the case cards, and express interest in any that stand out to you. And if you want to learn more about what it is like to work with youth in immigration matters, watch the fourteen-minute video CILA and ProBAR co-created, Standing with Children: Unaccompanied Children and the Need for Pro Bono Representation.

If you are a pro bono coordinator looking for a place to post your opportunities related to children’s immigration matters, reach out to me at [email protected] to learn more. CILA is one of three sister projects of the ABA’s Commission on Immigration (COI). Located in Houston, Texas, we are an expert legal resource center building capacity for those working to advance the rights of children seeking protection through trainings, technical assistance, and collaboration. CILA serves both legal service providers and pro bono attorneys who are representing children in immigration-related proceedings in Texas and across the nation. CILA began operations in late 2015. The Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation platform was developed and is maintained by legal aid attorneys and developers at SavvySuit, a software development company.

In addition to hosting the platform, CILA creates resources to support pro bono programs and pro bono attorneys. CILA’s Pro Bono Guide: Working with Children and Youth in Immigration Cases is a great resource for those new to the nuanced field that is children’s immigration law. In addition, CILA’s website is constantly being updated with new recorded trainings, some introductory in nature and others quite advanced in content. Those new to children’s immigration law can benefit from CILA’s Unaccompanied Children & Immigration 101 training series. CILA also sends a quarterly e-newsletter to potential volunteers looking for pro bono opportunities to help children in immigration matters, pro bono attorneys and immigration practitioners seeking resources, or to anyone who wants to learn more about children’s immigration law. Sign up here to receive CILA’s e-newsletter.

CILA also coordinates pro bono opportunities with the other ABA COI projects: the Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) in Harlingen, Texas and the Immigration Justice Project (IJP) in San Diego, California. Sign up here to express interest in pro bono opportunities with the COI projects.

About the Author

Yasmin Yavar is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Children’s Immigration Law Academy, a project of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration. Yasmin is a 2004 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, where she fell in love with immigration law through Barbara Hines’ immigration clinic and a brief summer internship at South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR). She began her legal career as a commercial litigator at the Houston office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw. After three years, Yasmin relocated to Harlingen, Texas for a year to work for ProBAR and learn the ropes of removal defense for detained adults. She returned to Houston and was the first employee of Kids in Need of Defense’s Houston office, serving as the pro bono coordinator. Prior to working at CILA, Yasmin worked as a consultant for ProBAR’s Children’s Project.