In a two-day visit to the Rio Grande Valley, where thousands of parents and their separated children are detained as a result of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, ABA President Hilarie Bass spoke out about the need for legal services to ensure they receive the due process to which they are entitled.
Accompanied by Kimi Jackson, director of the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), Bass visited U.S. District Court in McAllen, Texas, on June 26 to view the prosecution of 75 migrants who entered the country illegally. She learned that many of them had met only for a few minutes each with lawyers from the public defender’s office.
At Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos later that day, Bass and Jackson met with 10 mothers of separated children, several of whom told her through tears that they do not know where their children are and have not had access to a lawyer.
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“We are going to work hard to find Spanish-speaking lawyers with immigration knowledge who can help these people with legitimate asylum claims,” Bass said.
ProBAR is a national effort to provide pro bono legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas. It is a joint project of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation provides support to this project. In the current crisis, the staff is providing legal services to detained children and coordinating groups of volunteer Spanish-speaking lawyers who have come from throughout the country to provide legal services to adults.
During her trip, Bass was interviewed by a number of national media outlets, including The Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Reuters and an appearance on MSNBC with Lawrence O’Donnell, where she spoke about what she had seen on her visit.
Bass is mobilizing the ABA to coordinate a response to the crisis, which includes a fundraising effort for ProBAR and coordinating lawyer volunteers, who will be needed around the country to represent children and parents, she said.