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August 28, 2023

Quarterly eNewsletter

Summer 2023

Letter from the Director

Whenever someone asks any of us what we do and we answer that we work in immigration law, the inevitable response is, “You must be busy!” Of course we are busy—we work on the southwest border of the United States, near the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, where the Supreme Court has held that many of our clients have “no entitlement to procedural rights” under the U.S. Constitution.1 At the Immigration Justice Project, we educate noncitizens detained in immigration jails, we train and collaborate with a national community of immigrant advocates and volunteers, and we represent immigrants and asylum seekers in immigration court.

We are proud to be busy, because we are proud of all the work we do. This newsletter is our effort to share stories of our work with our community of supporters, volunteers, former clients, and colleagues. We want to share our successes and our challenges, opportunities to volunteer or support, and stories of the people we serve and the team behind the work.

As you will see in this newsletter and those to come, everything IJP does depends on that team. We will introduce you to the hardworking, diverse, passionate people who work for IJP, starting with the undergraduate and law students who joined us this summer as part of our internship and fellowship program. We will invite the individuals who have benefited from IJP’s services to share their personal perspectives on the importance of legal representation and orientation. And we will ask for support, especially from those among you who have the privilege of being able to share your treasure or your time to become part of our team. This month, we’re asking you to save the date for IJP’s Quinceañera on November 9, 2023, in San Diego, celebrating 15 years of service since the American Bar Association first dreamed this project into existence.

The IJP team is busy. In the four years since I first joined as Legal Director, we have experienced a global pandemic and the closing of the southern border, dramatic changes to asylum laws and policies, the reshaping of the federal courts, and the increasing centrality of immigration as a political issue in this country. Of course we are busy.

Of course we are proud.


Lauren Cusitello
Director, ABA Immigration Justice Project

2023 Summer Fellows and Interns

By the Class of Summer 2023

Summer interns.

They are the fresh faces that show up at the end of May dressed in their best. The excitement is contagious as they take in their new home for the next ten weeks. They’re ready to fetch the coffee and shadow attorneys, but the opportunity never comes. Instead, they are given the chance to work on cases. By June, they’re busy writing motions, reading briefs, and observing court. The excitement still lingers while a new passion ignites for their work. Then comes July when they’re conducting orientations, contacting clients, and even entering their appearance in court. They check their calendars and note the dwindling days. Their time as mini attorneys are about to come to an end. Finally, in August, they’re saying goodbye to the new friends they’ve made along the way and closing their laptops for the last time. They have each left a bit of themselves in the case files but are leaving with much more. The new experiences have left lasting impressions within them. From the every-changing Kurzban’s to the personal experiences of those fighting their cases, they have learned so much in-between. As they await their first day of school, they reflect on the summer. They will take their newfound knowledge into the next chapter of their lives.

Thank you IJP. Sincerely, your 2023 summer interns.

Omar Perez: A Glint of Light in the Darkness

By Harper Otawka, Managing Attorney

I first met Omar Perez in the contact visitation room at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in 2019. Omar was an enthusiastic participant in the Legal Orientation Program (LOP). Karla Rodriguez, who has been working in the LOP for over seven years, and I, helped Omar prepare his case while he was representing himself before the immigration court in his removal proceedings. When Omar wasn’t in LOP, he was usually in the law library studying case law or translating evidence for others who were detained. He used the knowledge he gained in LOP to help himself and those around him. At the end of his case Omar was granted protection under the Convention Against Torture, allowing him to remain in the U.S., to be released, and be reunited with his family.

Omar’s victory in 2019 marked a new beginning for him and his family. One of the most difficult things that Omar endured was being separated from his children who live in the United States. After his last deportation, having to telling his children that he won’t be able to come back to the U.S. was one of the hardest things that he had to do. Omar’s protection has allowed for him to not only safely remain in the U.S., but has allowed for his children to have a true sense of relief that has allowed them to flourish.

In the years following his detention, Omar earned his high school diploma and has been attending Long Beach City College. He’s made the Dean’s List four times so far. He’s the Vice President of the Justice Scholars Club, a member of the Human Services Club, Biology Club, and the Geology club.

Omar has chosen to focus his studies on addiction studies and social services. Apart from being a full-time student, Omar works at the Los Angeles Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse as client engagement and services agent. With the help of Senior Paralegal Dana Chavarria, Omar was able to gain work authorization. On the weekends, he volunteers at the Substance Use Disorder residential program.

When asked what inspires him, Omar responded, “what inspired me to do the work I do now, is people like you, Karla, and Dana. Experiencing firsthand the kindness and help from you guys had a big impact on me. It made me want to be of service to others. You guys inspired me to help others the same way I was helped. When there are people struggling or suffering and we know that we can be a glint of light in their darkness, it gives me the motivation that I need to keep doing my job and to be of service to others.”

Omar continues to be a true inspiration for us. Seeing Omar survive the darkest of experiences, and now continue to heal himself and others, gives us strength in the work that we do. We are so grateful to Omar, who came to speak to IJP’s 2023 Legal Fellow Class about his experience at the importance of pro se assistance. We are excited to see what Omar will do next!

Back to School

By Beatriz Valente, Senior Staff Attorney

Jonathan* is an 18-year-old young man from El Salvador. He entered the United States as an Unaccompanied Child at the age of 15. Jonathan was one of IJP’s first Children’s Counsel clients. He began working with the Immigration Justice Project in December of 2021. Since then, IJP has been successful in terminating his removal proceedings in immigration court.

Jonathan recently graduated from high school. He will be attending community college this fall where he hopes to take English classes and study nursing. Jonathan looks forward to getting his first job in the U.S. so that he can pay for his studies and get his own apartment. It truly has been a pleasure to share in Jonathan’s successes!