Written by Fiona McEntee
I just learned that it’s Pro Bono Week this week.
As a practicing immigration lawyer for almost 12 years, pro bono is part of my regular workload. Almost since the moment this Administration took office, my pro bono workload has dramatically increased. It started from Day 1 of the Travel Ban when I, along with my brother and colleague, Ray, were one of the first attorneys at O’Hare and I turned into the ad hoc media representative for the newly formed O’Hare Airport Attorneys. A lot of people don’t realize that our work in relation to the Travel Ban didn’t end after that first week of madness, rather it continued to us being on call, pro bono, almost every day for 6 months as part of the at O’Hare Airport Attorney Team and to our firm suing the Administration, pro bono, in federal court over the Travel Ban.
My firm, McEntee Law Group, also hosts a monthly pro bono immigration clinic through Irish Community Services here in Chicago. We frequently take on pro bono cases through our firm and recently got an expedited green card approved for an undocumented client whose wife had terminal cancer. Unfortunately, his wife passed away shortly after his green card was issued but I know she took great comfort in knowing that his legal status was finally secure.
Additionally, I’m so proud that a few of our team members, soon-to-be associate attorney, Alex George, and our office manager, Carolina Solano J.D., have completed several week long stints in the family detention center in Dilley, Texas, through the Dilley Pro Bono Project. You can read all about their experience here on our American Immigration Lawyers Association blog, Think Immigration. The Immigration Law Society in our law school, Chicago-Kent, organized the trip and current Kent students can find out more here.
You don’t need me to tell you that immigration law as we know it has been target number one of the current Administration. The need for pro bono representation in immigration has never been greater. Other non-immigration attorneys regularly ask me if, and how, they can help and the truth is, there are lots of ways you can help and lots of organizations that can help you provide competent representation. I’ll link some of them below.
If you work in a big/mid sized firm, you might want to seriously consider adding Paladin to your roster. Paladin, a legal tech startup, has developed a platform geared towards facilitating smoother and more proactive connections between people in need of pro bono legal services and the lawyers qualified to help them. Read more here.
I’d like to end on a truly humbling and inspirational anecdote. A few years ago, I received a LinkedIn request out of the blue from an attorney named Tom Meagher. I didn’t know Tom but he had seen me give an interview on MSNBC about Trump’s latest anti-immigrant policy. Tom said that while he didn’t know much about immigration, he would be happy to help pro bono with any federal court litigation in New York or New Jersey. I never ended taking Tom up on that offer (well… not just yet) but fast forward to last week when I got another message from Tom. His message reads as follows:
“Inspired in part by you, my firm started a pro bono immigration practice (partnering with Kids In Need Of Defense). So far, after months of effort, our young pro bono client from Honduras was granted asylum, and after a hearing we had last week, the judge made the predicate findings for our young pro bono client from Nigeria to be granted SIJS. Thanks for the inspiration!”
I’m inspired by Tom and the work that his firm has been doing on a pro bono basis for immigrant children who so desperately need representation. If you have a moment, I urge you to read this American Immigration Council’s report that clearly shows that “immigrants with legal counsel were more likely to be released from detention, avoid being removed in absentia, and seek and obtain immigration relief.”
If you’ve been thinking about helping immigrants but are worried about not having any experience in this field, I hope Tom’s story serves as an inspiration to you. Connect with some of the non-profits above who have robust programs to help train armies of pro bono lawyers in lots of areas of immigration. As I told Tom, he’s changing lives and he should be very proud – don’t you want to join him?!