Who We Are

About the Immigration Justice Project (IJP)

Legal Programs

National Qualified Representative Program (NQRP)

The National Qualified Representative Program (NQRP) provides appointed legal representation for detained immigrants who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent to represent themselves. IJP was the first service provider in the region for this program, which launched in 2013, and we are considered the flagship organization for this work. At any given time, our organization is representing individuals, who hail from almost every continent, with serious psychological or developmental disabilities, in their removal proceedings before the San Diego, Otay Mesa, and Imperial Immigration Courts. The NQRP affords individuals—many of whom have often suffered persecution and torture in their home countries because of their mental disabilities—a meaningful opportunity to be heard by shifting the burden of representation from the immigrants themselves to highly qualified attorneys.

Legal Orientation Program (LOP)

IJP’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) works in the Otay Mesa Detention Facility several days per week with immigrants who are unable to secure legal representation. Despite the resources available in the San Diego region a significant majority of the detained immigrant population jailed at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility continues to be unrepresented. Through LOP, our organization educates these people about their rights in removal proceedings and arms them with tools to represent themselves before the immigration court. Specifically, LOP offers group orientations on defenses against removal and conducts one-on-one meetings with program participants. IJP’s LOP also conducts weekly workshops focused on presenting asylum claims and pursuing release through bond. Annually our LOP program works with thousands of detained immigrants. Given the highly complex nature of immigration legal processes, particularly in a court setting, coupled with the fact that many detainees speak little to no English and have a limited level of education, LOP is critical for most individuals that will be appearing in court without the assistance of an attorney.

Pro Bono

With no right to government-funded counsel and a high indigence rate, many appear in immigration proceedings pro se. The lack of representation has dramatic consequences, particularly for those fleeing persecution abroad or facing separation from family in the United States. The IJP Pro Bono Program aims not only to increase access to counsel for immigrants, but to benefit the judicial system as a whole; legal representation results in more fair, efficient, accurate, and consistent decision-making. IJP’s Pro Bono Program recruits, trains, and mentors volunteer attorneys to serve both detained and non-detained individuals to ensure increased access to justice for indigent immigrants. 

Our Staff

Adela Mason, Director

Domingo Alvaro, Paralegal

Rachel Butrum, Grants and Operations Manager

Dana Chavarria, Senior Paralegal

Lauren Cusitello, Legal Director

Crystal Yolanda Felix, Staff Attorney

Nancy Infante, Legal Assistant

Christopher "Kai" Medeiros, Staff Attorney

Patricia Ojeda, Senior Staff Attorney

Harper Otawka, Staff Attorney

Karla Rodriguez, Senior Paralegal

Fermin Vargas, Senior Staff Attorney

Ambreen Walji, Staff Attorney, Pro Bono Program Coordinator

 


History and Mission

In early 2008, the American Bar Association (ABA) launched an innovative pro bono immigration pilot project in San Diego, California pursuant to a seed grant from the ABA Enterprise Fund.  The mission of the IJP is to promote due process and access to justice at all levels of the immigration and appellate court system, through the provision of high-quality pro bono legal services for those in immigration proceedings in San Diego. Partnering in the project are several ABA entities,* the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the federal courts, Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the private bar. The IJP serves both detained and non-detained individuals, and recruits, trains, and mentors volunteer attorneys and law students representing clients. Through funding from the EOIR, the IJP has also implemented a Legal Orientation Program for adult immigration detainees. ISIM is conducting a study to evaluate IJP's impact on the immigration court and appellate process.

With no right to government-funded counsel and a high indigence rate, many appear in immigration proceedings pro se. The lack of representation has dramatic consequences, particularly for those fleeing persecution abroad or facing separation from family in the United States. The IJP aims not only to increase access to counsel for immigrants, but to benefit the judicial system as a whole; legal representation results in higher appearance rates, and more fair, efficient, accurate, and consistent decision-making. The number of immigration appeals has skyrocketed in recent years, and the lack of representation places a great strain on the federal courts - more than 50% of all immigration appeals are handled by the Ninth Circuit alone. In addition, “Notarios” claiming to be immigration lawyers or specialists, who prey upon unsuspecting individuals, are increasingly prevalent in the San Diego area and the IJP aims to expand the scope and quality of representation for those who might otherwise become their victims.

The mission of the IJP is to promote due process and access to justice at all levels of the immigration and appellate court system, through the provision of high-quality pro bono legal services for those in immigration proceedings in San Diego. The IJP serves both detained and non-detained individuals, and recruits, trains and mentors volunteer attorneys and law students representing clients.

ABA Entity Partners

  • Commission on Immigration
  • Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements
  • Section of Litigation
  • Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service
  • Judicial Division