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ProBAR marks 30 years helping immigrants and asylum-seekers

In 1989, the Texas border was in crisis. Thousands of refugees were fleeing wars in Central America, seeking asylum in the United States. In response, the American Bar Association created the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, or ProBAR – a handful of lawyers and others who offered legal help to immigrants and asylum-seekers.

ProBAR helps 28,000 children and adults every year.

ProBAR helps 28,000 children and adults every year.

Photo by Eden Jackson

Thirty years later, ProBAR is busier and larger than ever. With 178 staffers and contractors based in Harlingen, Texas, near Brownsville, ProBAR is the largest provider of legal services to detained unaccompanied immigrant children in the U.S. The program helps 28,000 children and adults each year navigate the complex U.S. immigration system by providing know-your-rights seminars, legal orientations, screenings, direct legal representation and legal referrals.

And the project is still growing. In the coming months, it will expand to more than 200 employees and contractors, serving 17 children’s shelters and three adult detention centers. Each day, ProBAR serves children and adults from dozens of countries speaking many languages – mostly Spanish, but also Mandarin Chinese, Somali, Nepali, Punjabi, Mayan languages and others.

During the family separation crisis last year, ProBAR collaborated with other organizations to identify and reunite parents with children. Over 11 weeks, ProBAR hosted 95 lawyers and 13 support staff from around the country. It helped 380 separated parents and other adults and provided legal referrals to 63 separated children.

ProBAR regularly hosts groups of pro bono volunteers who want to help immigrants and asylum-seekers. It is working with J.K. Rowling’s Lumos Foundation to provide social work services to children and families adapting to new communities. Soon, ProBAR will launch a small team to work with asylum-seekers who are forced to remain in Mexico while their U.S. immigration cases are pending.

ProBAR marked its 30th anniversary with a gala celebration Nov. 1 in Harlingen.

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