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CILA expands pro bono opportunities, marks 5th anniversary

October 12, 2020

One year ago, the ABA Children’s Immigration Law Academy launched an online portal that matched volunteer lawyers with immigrant children facing deportation. The website – called Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation – offered volunteer opportunities from three national organizations.

CILA was founded one year after the initial surge of unaccompanied children crossed the Mexican border.

CILA was founded one year after the initial surge of unaccompanied children crossed the Mexican border.

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Since then, the portal has expanded quite a bit. Today, it offers pro bono cases from 16 nonprofit offices across the country. On a recent day, for example, there were children needing help in California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“In an ideal system, all minors in immigration proceedings would have appointed counsel at government expense,” ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said. “Sadly, that is not the case, so half of all children facing deportation stand in court alone. They need our help.”

CILA was founded on Sept. 1, 2015, one year after the initial surge of unaccompanied children crossing the Mexican border. In those days – as today – there weren’t enough pro bono attorneys to help every child in deportation proceedings. Those lawyers who did volunteer found a lack of training and support for their efforts.

CILA partly closed that gap. Today, CILA’s six employees in Houston provide in-person training (after the pandemic subsides), online webinars and technical assistance for lawyers handling children’s cases. They operate three listservs and five working groups to help immigration lawyers exchange information, plus a monthly newsletter to help attorneys stay on top of changes in immigration law and procedures. To date, the academy has trained and provided technical assistance to more than 1,700 lawyers and legal staffers nationwide.

Its most popular course is a three-day annual training session in collaboration with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. The faculty includes former immigration judges, current practitioners and academics. And in August, CILA published a 101-page manual on how to work with children in immigration cases.

The CILA website includes upcoming live training events and 26 recorded webinars. The academy is funded by the Vera Institute of Justice, the Simmons Foundation and the Houston Endowment, among others.

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