On Their Own Time, Lawyers Helping at the Border

By Sue Kenney-Pfalzer, Director, Border & Asylum Network, U.S. Programs

The HIAS Border Fellows program was created in the fall of 2018 to provide direct legal services to asylum seekers along the US-Mexico border. HIAS now has three attorneys in place in partner legal and social services agencies in California and Texas where they are helping clients with asylum cases and are a key element of HIAS’ increased focus on addressing the situation at the border.

In addition to placing staff attorneys where they are most needed, another important aspect of the Border Fellows Project is the work done by delegations of pro bono attorneys who travel to the border at their own expense to provide additional legal services. During one-week periods, these groups build on the work being done by the full-time fellows, allowing HIAS and our partners to assist even more asylum seekers. I recently traveled with two of these groups and saw their work up close.

In April, a delegation of four attorneys traveled to San Diego to work with Jewish Family Service (JFSSD) and meet with HIAS Border Fellow Luis Gonzalez. The attorneys conducted client intakes at a detention center, conducted legal research, and wrote briefs for asylum claims. They also assisted asylum seekers who had been forced to wait in Mexico while their cases were pending, due to the Trump administration’s controversial Migrant Protection Protocols, known colloquially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The attorneys also spent time volunteering at the San Diego Rapid Response Network Shelter, which is jointly run by JFSSD and other organizations. The shelter provides beds, meals, medical care, legal services, and travel aid to 50-60 families per day. Patricia Pastor, an attorney from New York, said she helped prepare legal documents on the trip, but especially liked the direct assistance she was able to provide, such as helping clients make travel arrangements as well as gathering donations and serving food. “I am very passionate about helping migrants caught up in the broken U.S. immigration system,” Pastor said.

In May, a delegation of nine attorneys organized by Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, Calif., spent a week working with Nicolas Palazzo, the HIAS Fellow at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. The attorneys spent time at two different detention centers, conducting client intakes and preparing detainees for credible fear interviews, which is the first step in pursuing their asylum claims.

The pro bono attorneys also prepared filings and briefs for victims of crime and trafficking who are seeking legal status in the U.S. Thanks to the efforts of one of the pro bono attorneys that week, an asylum seeker was released on parole.

Another HIAS pro bono delegation recently returned from El Paso. I trained attorneys Rachel Rutter and Stephanie Lubert, who led the delegation, and you can read about their trip here.

[If you are interested in joining a future HIAS-led pro bono attorney delegation to the border, please fill out the application form and HIAS will contact you when the next trip is planned.]

Sue Kenney-Pfalzer is the new HIAS Director of the Border & Asylum Network, providing management and coordination of HIAS’ projects along the southern border of the U.S, as well as in HIAS affiliates around the country.

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