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November 20, 2023 Immigration

ABA immigration project marks 15 years

This month, the ABA Immigration Justice Project in San Diego is celebrating 15 years of helping migrants who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Just a few years ago, the project had five staffers. Today, it has 26 – and the staff is growing as the project expands its services.

ABA's Immigration Commission and Immigration Justice Project staff (L-R) Olavo Michel, Meredith Linsky, Laura Flores Bachman and Lauren Cusitello.

ABA's Immigration Commission and Immigration Justice Project staff (L-R) Olavo Michel, Meredith Linsky, Laura Flores Bachman and Lauren Cusitello.

American Bar Association photo

The project, a part of the ABA Commission on Immigration, is the only provider of legal services to detained migrants in San Diego. It is also the only provider of legal counsel to individuals in San Diego immigration court. And it is one of just five legal service providers in the country that take emergency phone calls from immigrants in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

How does the Immigration Justice Project help? Consider the recent case of a woman from Mexico who has lived in the United States since she was 9 years old. A survivor of domestic violence, she now lives in Southern California and is the mother of two children who are U.S. citizens.

For five years, project attorneys worked on behalf of the mother as immigration authorities tried to remove her from the country. Recently, those lawyers convinced an immigration judge to let the mother stay in the United States. She will soon apply for permanent residence. 

The Immigration Justice Project began in 2008 as federal courts became clogged with immigration appeals. Fifteen years later, the project continues to promote due process and access to justice at every level of the immigration system.

Last year, San Diego County chose the Immigration Justice Project as one of three nonprofit agencies to provide legal representation to people in immigration removal proceedings in San Diego. With this new funding, the project hired four additional lawyers and paralegals.

In the most recent quarter – July to September 2023 – the project held 246 legal orientations and workshops for groups of migrants, 378 individual orientations and served 532 detained migrants.

In addition to helping migrants who speak English and Spanish, IJP has seen an increase in migrants who speak other languages, especially Russian and central Asian languages.

The project relies on pro bono attorneys and volunteers to supplement its paid staff. IJP is currently seeking law student interns, translators and experienced immigration practitioners.

“IJP’s services have improved lives and impacted tens of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers,” said Meredith Linsky, director of the ABA Commission on Immigration. “IJP staff members are not only zealous advocates and social justice warriors, but also deeply connected to the San Diego community. IJP staff offer hope, accompaniment and legal expertise to the people they serve, most of whom are detained and in a time of distress.”

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